Resistance To Acerbic, Mopey Aniston

Jennifer Aniston is one of the producers of the Toronto-bound Cake, a somewhat dark-toned, lower-budgeted drama, shot last spring in Los Angeles, in which she, Anna Kendrick, Sam Worthington and Chris Messina costar. It has to do with tragedy, morose moods, a pain-support group, a sudden departure, a mildly unattractive mousey appearance for Aniston and (here’s hoping) acerbic dialogue. Aniston occasionally steps outside her comedic comfort zone to make films of this sort (Life of Crime, Friends With Money, etc.), the difference being that this time she helped with the financing. Please don’t get me wrong — I admire Aniston for trying to expand her repertoire, and I intend to give Cake a chance. As much as I’m able to, I mean.

Jennifer Aniston with prosthetic cheek scar during filming of Cake earlier this year.

The problem is that I have an Aniston blockage. I’d like to submit to the idea of Aniston playing a dumpy, brown-haired downhead, but I just can’t. And it’s not because she’s worth around $150 million or something in that vicinity. Nothing wrong with Aniston being loaded, but I can’t quite do that suspension-of-disbelief thing. Not with her super-toned bod and frosted blonde hair and her SmartWater and Aveeno endorsement deals, and her unrelenting presence in the supermarket tabloids for the last…what, 15 years? And always with the hot-bikini vacations on the Mexican coast.

In my mind Aniston is right next door to Blake Lively in the soul department. She’s a personality, a light comedienne, a world-famous metaphor for the 21st Century jilted woman, a marketing concept. And I just can’t see her as a mousey depressive dealing with pain and death and trips to Mexico. I’ll follow Amy Adams or Jessica Chastain or even Anne Hathaway into this realm, but Aniston presents an obstruction. Not that I wouldn’t like to. I just feel constrained.

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Ordeal of the Soul

It would appear that Jon Stewart‘s Rosewater (Open Road, 11.7) is basically another ordeal film, perhaps not precisely in the vein of Unbroken or All Is Lost or Life of Pi as it’s about jail rather than the open sea, although it’s close enough as Unbroken also deals with agonizing conditions in a Japanese P.O.W. camp. Directed and written by Stewart and produced by Scott Rudin, pic is based on a first-hand account of BBC journalist Maziar Bahari (played by Gael Garcia Bernal in the film) and the 118 days he spent in an Iranian prison in ’09 on trumped-up charges. Bahari’s book about the experience is called “Then They Came For Me: A Family’s Story Of Love, Captivity And Survival.” Bahari’s Revolutionary Guard interrogator, a man known as “Rosewater,” is played in the film by Kim Bodnia. As Rosewater will play the Toronto Film festival as a Canadian premiere, I’m presuming it’ll appear first in Telluride.

Spitballing Best Actress Derby

Thanks to Awards Daily‘s Ryan Adams for posting an Easy Lay, Non-Discretionary List of 2014 Best Actress Contenders…31 in all. Nice effort, a good start. But let’s cut out the chaff and get real. By current HE spitball standards there are seven female performances that may potentially shake out as highly likely or distinctly possible contenders within two or three months. Topping the list are Wild‘s Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Rigby and Miss Julie‘s Jessica Chastain and Gone Girl‘s Rosamund Pike.

I obviously know next to nothing about who’s really hot-tub but (a) I do know which roles appear to be the most substantial and awards-baity on paper, (b) I would be floored if Witherspoon, Chastain and Pike are not part of the Best Actress conversation by mid-October, (c) I do know which actresses have built up good cred and are “owed,” so to speak, and (d) I do have a fairly acute intuition about which performances are almost certain to be ignored. Here’s how it seems right now:

Highly Likely: Reese Witherspoon, Wild; Jessica Chastain, Eleanor Rigby + Miss Julie; Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl.

Distinctly Possible but don’t bet the farm: Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything; Emma Stone, Birdman (supporting); Michelle Williams, Suite Française; Amy Adams, Big Eyes; Julianne Moore, Maps to the Stars. (more…)

Even Better Birdman Trailer

This international Birdman trailer is an uptick. Potent emotional currents, casual-natural acting, withering God’s-eye humor as opposed to “laughs”, an apparently noteworthy Emma Stone performance. But what’s with Michael Keaton‘s Tom Waits voice? And what’s with the non-stop running around with Fruit of the Loom underwear, at least as far as this trailer is concerned? Underwear, underwear, genital-revealing underwear under the glare of Times Square….I’ve got it, thank you. Yes, it’s a metaphor but in my eyes Fruit of the Loom is pretty close to gold-toe socks in terms of aesthetic offense. The world of men’s underwear is pretty cool these days. I personally lean toward slim boxer underwear with a button-snap fly. Nobody with a shred of taste or self-respect wears Fruit of the Loom briefs, least of all anyone allowing for the possibility that they might wear them in public.

Without A Heartbeat, Voters Stay Home

Last week a staunch Democrat muttered that people shouldn’t even talk about Elizabeth Warren running against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Warren will just fuck things up by weakening support for Clinton and might thereby allow for a possible Republican presidential victory. I only know that a presidential campaign has to be about something more than just “I’ve been biding my time and am pretty much inevitable” and “it’s time for a woman to be in the Oval Office.” I agree with both notions but a presidential campaign has to be about real heart and extra-passionate beliefs, and Clinton seems to barely have either (her main conviction is that she wants very much to win) while Warren has both in spades. You know she does, and you know that Hillary, a corporate center-rightist with nominally “liberal” colors, has never had that fire.

Will Hillary be nominated and elected? Most likely, yes, and that’ll be a lot better than Rand Paul or whomever. And it’ll be good to have Bill Clinton back in the hot seat and co-running the show.

But Clinton can’t just be coronated. She has to lay it on the line and show what she’s philosophically made of and and duke it out on the mat. At the very least a Warren debate will force Clinton to take a more populist tack. It might make real common sense at the end of the day for Democrats to go with a Granny Ticket. Seriously. (more…)

Sondheim Who?

Disney marketers are selling the mythical storybook sizzle — witches, spooky woods, maidens, spells, beanstalks, a handsome prince, “I wish…” — and sidestepping the incidental fact that Rob Marshall‘s Into The Woods (Disney, 12.25) is given to song, and more particularly to the unconventional, occasionally quite subtle and sophisticated super-songs of Stephen Sondheim. Hilarious! Disney marketers are essentially declaring that the idiots out there don’t know from Sondheim and are probably going to be turned off by any notion of melodic fancy but the spooky storybook stuff…yes! We’ll eventually let them know it’s a musical down the road, Disney is thinking. Gently, gradually, bit by little bit. Hit them with it too suddenly and they might freak or complain.

Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick and James Corden can belt out a tune quite robustly and professionally, of course. I’m hoping/presuming/praying that Emily Blunt, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski and Johnny Depp will somehow muddle through. We all know that in terms of his directing style Marshall is a brassy, straight-ahead square who would rather strangle himself than play to the sophistos — he makes movies for popcorn-eaters. Chicago was certainly proof enough of that. But if he just gets out of the way of the material and just captures the play and the music and leaves well enough alone, Into The Woods might work.

Had To Ride, Man

After a slow-if-not-difficult day with the column and all kinds of niggly-piggly chickenshit matters that I had to attend to above and beyond, I didn’t feel like submitting to Sharknado 2 last night. Just another cash-in — the original was the charm. I had to hop on the non-hog (i.e., Yamaha 400 cc Majesty) and buzz around town. You don’t go any one special place…that’s cornball style, you just go. Okay, I went to one special place (Amoeba) and then into the hills in order to not feel the glorious sensation of wind blowing through my hair because I’m required to wear a helmet that makes my head feel warm and somewhat damp. I’ll catch the encore showing on Saturday, 8.2. But in the meantime this extra-particular complaint by Vulture‘s John Sellers is 65% hilarious and 35% something else.

Get On Up Is Boseman’s Show

There’s no question that Chadwick Boseman‘s performance as James Brown is the best thing about Tate Taylor‘s Get On Up. The film has other pleasures but Boseman matters most. He was naturally obliged to play it solemn and reserved as Jackie Robinson in 42, but not as the late soul-funk legend, who was nothing if not irascible in a gifted sort of way. This is a snappy, raspy, rapscallion submission that never softpedals or seems to be the least bit concerned about whether whitebread types will “like” the character or not. Honestly? Boseman’s Brown is not 100% likable…and that, for me, is where the integrity comes in. Boseman has absolutely earned himself an armchair at the 2014 Best Actor table. By giving himself, monk-like, to Brown’s spirit, history and rambunctious energy, he’s gotten up offa that thing and lit some kind of fuse.

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Is St. Vincent Toronto-Bound?

On top of HE’s 26 “hard” picks for the Toronto Film Festival (or 30 if you want to be liberal about it) I’ll probably be adding one more — Ted Melfi and Bill Murray‘s St. Vincent (formerly St. Vincent de Van Nuys), which the Weinstein Co,. is opening on 10.24. The idea is to give the New York-based attitude comedy, which costars Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O’Dowd and Naomi Watts, a gala screening during the festival’s first weekend. Earlier today Deadline‘s Michael Fleming wrote that the Weinsteiners were having trouble getting Murray to commit to the Toronto thing, presumably because Harvey sees real potential in a Best Actor campaign for Murray, who was totally shat upon 15 and 1/2 years ago when the Academy didn’t even nominate him for his legendary performance in Wes Anderson‘s Rushmore. And then he lost his expected Lost in Translation Best Actor Oscar to Sean Penn in Mystic River.

The More I Get Into This…

Interstellar‘s trippy space-travel, visiting-Iceland footage is well and good, but, as previously noted, the cloying emotionalism in the scenes between Matthew McConaughey (whom I’ve suddenly tired of) and his teary-eyed kids as they discuss his pending voyage is really starting to grate. And I really don’t think it’s possible to roll with Michael Caine as someone else any more — he’s been imitated to death and every time he opens his mouth you can’t help but think about Rob Brydon. The key image in this brand-new trailer, which was shown for the first time three or four days ago at ComicCon, is what I’m presuming is some kind of visualization of a wormhole. It looks to me like an overhead shot of a looping Santa Monica Freeway off-ramp covered in glowing butterscotch sauce and transposed to space.

Chumps Will Bring Their Kids…Again

This time Ben Stiller gets to play a double role (amiable Larry Daley plus an animal-skin-wearing cro-magnon guy) and there’s a trip to London. All that’s going on here is that everyone has been well compensated…that’s it, that’s the whole deal. The original Night at the Museum (’06) pulled down $250 million domestic and $320 million foreign for a grand tally of $571 million and change. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (’09) earned $177.1 million domestic and $236 million foreign for a total of $411,755,284. Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (12.19.14) will probably make…what, $300 million worldwide? The best thing in this whole trailer is teensy-sized Owen Wilson and some other guy getting splashed with monkey urine. “C’mon…that wasn’t necessary!”

Stiller really, really needs to do another dryly humorous, low-key, low-grossing film like Greenberg again. Please.

Won’t Back Down

In a 6.28 piece about the arrival of Zak, an 11 week-old ragdoll kitten, I wrote that occasionally foul-tempered Mouse (a.k.a., “Fatty”) and even good-natured Aura were hissing and very pissed off about this. Well, a month has passed and two things have happened. Aura has calmed down and is more or less okay with Zak, but Mouse has turned foul. He’s impossible. He won’t stop with the growling and the hissing and has more or less turned into a complete asshole. When he’s inside, I mean. He’s warm and friendly when I see him outside but his personality flips over when we’re in the pad because of Zak’s proximity. Mouse won’t sleep or hang out here — he only comes in for food and then growls and hisses and won’t stop kvetching until I let him out. He really hates me for bringing Zak into his realm, and he absolutely refuses to chill about it. But that’s what life asks of us now and then. Bend with the wind, go with the flow. I feel badly that Mouse has become an outside cat — pretty close to feral. No comforts of home, no TV-watching, no lolling around, no purring. I’m thinking of buying him a cat igloo so he can at least sleep in it from time to time. It’s rough. I figured he’d eventually adapt but he just won’t.

Parents Cut Me Off

Mutt-and-Jeff comedies are always a little funnier, I think, when the characters are older than usual unless, of course, they’re playing serious dumbasses, in which case it’s not as funny as it could or should be. But what works, I think, is when one of the characters is in the grip of genuine self-loathing, and yet the kind of self-loathing that’s been pushed so far down that he’s not even aware that it’s there. Jason Bateman and Billy Crudup appear to be in their mid 40s or thereabouts. In ten years we’re going to see comedies about guys in their 50s still trying to grow up and act like adults.

“See Ya In The Next Life”

An excerpt from Glenn Kenny‘s Phaidon/Cahiers Du Cinema’s “Anatomy of an Actor” book about Robert De Niro. Except that…well, the portion I’m interested in is lifted from the N.Y. Times. No biggie. Just saying.

“It was understood [during the shooting of Midnight Run] that Charles Grodin might have some opportunity to improvise. The ‘night boxcar scene,’ as Grodin calls it, was, he said, improvised entirely. The situation begins with Grodin shutting a boxcar door on De Niro’s face in an effort to escape him. De Niro, in the role of Jack Walsh, promptly boards the car from the other side — enraged.

“But, Grodin said of the scene, ‘We knew it had to end with De Niro revealing something personal about himself’ — the history of a wristwatch that has sentimental value. ‘How do you get to that point in a couple of minutes where he’s going to reveal himself? What do you say?’ (more…)

Cahiers du Marginalize

Leaving aside the uninspired-bordering-on-cheeseball cover design of those Cahiers du Cinema “Anatomy Of” profile books (tinted and bendayed closeup of actor/actress’s face with ransom-note lettering on upper-left portion), where does the art director find the arrogance to paste the author’s name in a point-size so small you can’t even read it if the image is reduced? The author worked his or her ass off for two or three or four months to deliver a definitive study of this or that actor, and Cahiers du Cinema’s cover design seems to almost say to the reader, “The writer…okay, we have to put the writer’s name on the cover, fine, but he/she is a minor cog in our mechanism.” What is that, nine- or eight-point bold? Why not make it seven- or six-point? If you’re going to try and diminish the value of the writer, why not go all the way? Why put his/her name on the cover at all? Why not just mention it inside somewhere?

Fool Won’t Take The Dough

Michael Egan’s sexual-abuse case against director Bryan Singer has all but collapsed over dumb pride. Egan’s attorney Jeff Herman has apparently washed his hands of the guy because he wouldn’t agree to a $100 grand “take-it-and-shut-up” deal offered and signed late last month by Singer and his attorney Martin Singer. A couple of hours ago Buzzfeed reported that as a result of Egan refusing the deal, the specifics of which are viewable via an apparently legit “Memorandum of Settlement” obtained by Buzzfeed and verified by Herman, Herman’s firm is “in the process of withdrawing from representing Mr. Egan in all his cases and [has] no further comment concerning his matters at this time,” according to a statement given to Buzzfeed.

Way to go, Egan! Your claims again Singer may be truthful but they’ve been portrayed as questionable at the very least, and you’ve already dropped three sexual abuse or exploitation lawsuits against three other guys — producer Gary Goddard and TV execs David Neuman and Garth Ancier — so you’re not exactly looking like a pillar of reliability or stability. The only thing you could have gotten out of this whole mess was a cash payoff and now you’ve apparently blown even that…brilliant.

Willem Dafoe as Gaza Firefighter

I don’t mean to sound aloof or unaffected by the carnage that’s currently engulfing Gaza, but I was startled this morning by Wissam Nassar‘s photo of a firefighter reacting to a huge inferno. It’s included in a 7.29 Times story about Israel’s latest barrage (“Israel Broadens Targets in Gaza Barrage; Power Is Out” by Ben Hubbard and Jodi Rudoren). The photo looks like something out of a Ridley Scott or Oliver Stone film. Composed rather than caught on the fly.

HE’s TIFF Tally Is Now Pushing 30

I’ve already got 21 Toronto Film Festival films on my priority list so there’s not a lot of room to jam in selections from this morning’s announcement of fresh titles. I’my definitely adding four or five but I can’t fool around. I can’t be whimsical or open to exotic experiments. Well, I usually wind up succumbing to precisely those experiments due to occasional scheduling gaps and pocket-drops but for the most part I have to be hard and mean.

I’m definitely adding Michael Winterbottom’s The Face of an Angel because it’s Winterbottom doing a real-life, Italy-based murder tale “inspired by” the Amanda Knox case (i.e., Kate Beckinsale and Daniel Bruhl as journalists looking into the case, Cara Delevingne as the femme fatale). MW’s last real-events recapturing, A Mighty Heart, was quite good. Pic is more or less based on “Angel Face,” a 2010 investigative study.

I’m expecting to catch my second viewing of Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan in Telluride (following my first immersion in Cannes two and a half months ago) so there’s no need for a third go-round in Toronto, but it’s an absolute must-see for anyone who hasn’t yet had the pleasure.

Mark Hartley’s Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films is a definite add-on. I’ve been hearing all along that Hartley’s doc is tougher and snarkier than Hilla Medalia’s The Go-Go Boys, which I saw and reviewed in Cannes last May. (Medalia’s doc was produced, I’m told, to counterbalance the expected impact of the Hartley.) I’m also invested as I worked as a Cannon publicity press-kit writer in in ’86, ’87 and early ’88.

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We Are The Cheese

Toronto Film Festival artistic director Cameron Bailey has told L.A. Times reporter Steven Zeitchik that the reason he changed Toronto’s policy vis a vis the Telluride Film Festival was because of the intense “hothouse” press coverage of first-anywhere Telluride screenings. In other words, he changed TIFF’s policy because of Telluride snap judgments and predictions by the likes of Zeitchik, Deadline‘s Pete Hammond, myself, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Scott Feinberg and Todd McCarthy, Awards Daily‘s Sasha Stone, In Contention‘s Kris Tapley and Greg Ellwood, N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott, Indiewire‘s Anne Thompson and Eric Kohn, Variety‘s Scott Foundas and Justin Chang and maybe…what, five or ten others if that? MCN’s David Poland used to cover Telluride but when was the last time he showed? Last year Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan covered only Toronto (or so I recall). Who else? Will Toronto Star critic Pete Howell come to Telluride this year? Has Grantland‘s Mark Harris (“It’s September, for God’s sake!”) ever attended?


Argo director/star Ben Affleck, Hollywood Reporter critic Todd McCarthy at 2012 Telluride Film Festival picnic.

Marion Cotillard, Hollywood Reporter award-season columnist Scott Feinberg at Sony Pictures Classics lunch during 2012 Telluride Film Festival.

In other words, the elite award-season blogging mafia takes the temperature of Telluride and lights the initial fuse…blows the trumpet, sets the bar, guides the conversation, launches certain films and puts others on hold, says what goes, starts things off, rides the horse through town and says “the British are coming!”, etc.

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ScarJo Is No Action Star

Obviously Luc Besson‘s Lucy sold a shitload of tickets last weekend, taking down nearly $44 million, which is certainly a kind of feather in the cap of Scarlet Johansson. Her Lucy character, a drug-enhanced superwoman, is the third super-formidable she’s played over the past four years — a woman who beats the shit out of or kills male opponents (or victims) like it’s nothing. The other two characters, of course, are Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, whom she’s played in Iron Man 2, The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Laura-the-zoned-out-alien in Under The Skin. If you add Johansson’s mesmerizing voice-performance in Her as Samantha, a kind of ghost in the software with an enormous, constantly evolving intellect, it’s clear she and her agent have forged a new hotshit ScarJo identity — a woman of unearthly powers and confidence whom you don’t want to mess with and perhaps not even talk to unless…you know, you have super-powers that match hers.

But ScarJo is not — repeat, not — an action star. Someone applied that term within the last two or three days and it’s just not selling. She’s been playing some kick-ass, super-powerful women, yes, but without the slightest real-world authority. Whupass Scarlett is an act, a marketing idea — a feminist conceit or some kind of tip-of-the-hat gesture to women who crave power and control over their lives, and that’s fine. But I’m not actually buying it for a second because for one thing she’s just too small to be an action star. I talked to her once at a party (I mentioned I was looking to try a little opium for old time’s sake, and she said it didn’t sound like the impossible dream), and she’s only about 5′ 3″ or thereabouts. No way. She just doesn’t look tough enough. (more…)