Back Into The Ocean

Maybe I’m stupid but I thought The Affair was in the habit of airing new episodes on Sunday. I just turned on Showtime to watch episode 8 only to be confronted with episode 7 again, which I saw a week ago (Sunday, 11.23). An Episode 8 page says it airs next Sunday (12.7) Why did they skip a week? I noticed tonight, by the way, that I’ve become very accustomed to Fiona Apple‘s “The Container,” which plays over the opening credits.

Hack Plot Thickens

N.Y. Times reporters Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply have posted a story about the Sony hacking, which may or may not be related to North Korea’s ire over The Interview, a forthcoming Sony comedy co-directed, co-written by and co-starring Seth Rogen. The story contains three interesting paragraphs:

Tweeted by Seth Rogen on 11.24.

#1: “One person with knowledge of the situation said a Hollywood executive from a company other than Sony had contacted Homeland Security to suggest that the attack might be related to a piracy investigation involving a movie that was not even made by Sony. But the department was not mobilized as a result of the query.” (more…)

Looks Decent, Possibly First-Rate. Why No Reviews Yet?

Repeating: “A somber, colorful period drama…Peter Weir-ish, handsomely shot, assured direction…what’s not to like? Four years after the slaughter of Australian soldiers in Gallipoli, an Australian farmer (Russell Crowe) travels to Istanbul to discover the fate of his sons who may have been killed in battle. On top of which Crowe apparently falls in love (i.e., has it off) with Olga Kurylenko, playing a Turkish woman owns the hotel in which he stays. Directed by Crowe, written by Andrew Anastasios and Andrew Knight. Cinematography by Andrew Lesnie, the Lord of the Rings/Hobbit dp who won an Oscar in ’02 for The Fellowship of the Ring. Opening in Australia and New Zealand on 12.26.14. The only dicey thing is the title.”

Too Slow, Wasn’t Paying Attention

Wells to Cinefamily: “As a longtime fan of Robert Downey, Sr., I was hoping to cover your fundraiser screening of the restored Greaser’s Palace, to be hosted by Paul Thomas Anderson, on Saturday, December 6th. I would be happy to pay $100 in order to do this, but the sign says SOLD OUT. Can you let me slip in? Not a tragedy if you can’t.” Cinefamily’s Downey series runs from 12.5 through 12.8. Minor anecdote: I once starred in a cruddy little short film [after the jump] in which I stole the flasher-raincoat gag from Downey’s Putney Swope.


How Deep and Wide Is “Cumberbitch” Community?

Beginning with its debut at the Telluride Film Festival three months ago, The Imitation Game has consistently played well among upmarket mainstreamers. It was much more popular at Telluride than Birdman, due in large part, I suspect, to female fans of Benedict Cumberbatch. And now it’s tallied the second-highest per-screen average of the year in limited release, earning $482 grand in just four New York and Los Angeles screens since Friday. A Variety report mentions that big per-screen averages are sometimes “met with indifference when they expanded beyond urban areas,” but I don’t see that happening here. Game plays right to the sweet spot of urban, well-educated over-35 types, and I think that this commercial success will counter-balance quibbling reviews and carry it aloft into serious Oscar contention. Opinions from those who saw it this weekend? How much independent male support will manifest on top of the “Cumberbitches“?

Suggestion Trumps All

Alan Parker‘s Mississippi Burning gets an awful lot wrong about the way things really were in Mississippi in 1964. I’ve read, for example, that African Americans did a lot more than sing hymns and watch their churches burn. We all know that Parker and screenwriter Chris Gerolmo mangled the history of the FBI’s hunt for the killers of three Civil Rights workers (Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman). Their coup de grace was having the FBI agent heroes, played by Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe, turn into Dirty Harry-style vigilantes in Act Three, bringing the guilty yokels to justice by playing rough games and faking them out. Pauline Kael called it “a Charles Bronson movie.”

And I’ve never cared that much. Very few have, I suspect. I’ve always had a soft spot for Mississippi Burning for various reasons — the polish of it, Hackman’s performance (particularly his scenes with Frances McDormand), Peter Biziou‘s cinematography, Gerry Hambling‘s editing, the percussive rumble of Trevor Jones‘ music, da coolness. But especially Parker and Gerolmo’s bullshit plot. Because the lies they came up with are emotionally satisfying, and that’s always the bottom line. (more…)

Did Kim Jong-Un Hire Chinese Freelancers To Zotz Sony’s Network?

It’s only speculation with no proof, but it’s an instant urban legend that has launched and will probably remain in the blogosphere until proved incorrect. I’m speaking of reports that North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un (or some North Korean guys doing his bidding) may have arranged for Chinese hackers to hack into Sony Pictures Entertainment’s web network five days ago and gum things up beyond belief. Nobody knows anything but the possibility is being looked into. The theory is that North Korea may have trojan-ed Sony’s network as payback for The Interview (Columbia, 12.25), the upcoming Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy about a CIA plot to assassinate Kim Jong-Un. North Korean propaganda outlets have threatened “merciless retaliation” against the U.S. and other concerns if the film is released.

Why Are Drug Dealers Always Blasting Each Other?

Cedric Jimenez‘s The Connection “is a Gallic take on the French Connection-related, Marseille-based heroin drug trade, [and yet it] doesn’t even start its narrative until years after William Friedkin‘s 1971 classic hit cinemas. Beginning in 1975, it pits Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche against each other as a real-life Marseille judge and an elusive kingpin, distilling actual events into a procedural epic whose complicated narrative is propelled by visceral action sequences and an unusually thrilling soundtrack. The big-budget film should be a hit in its native land (where it opens on 12.3), while considerable theatrical appeal in English-language territories is boosted by both its art house-approved cast and the thematic tie-in to Friedkin’s evergreen cop film.” — from John DeFore‘s Hollywood Reporter review, filed from the Toronto Film Festival on 9.10.14.

What I Want, Need, Insist Upon

Two nights ago a week-long Nastassja Kinski film series began under the auspices of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Last night (11.28) they screened James Toback‘s Exposed (’83), in which Kinski costarred with Rudolf Nureyev and Harvey Keitel. (It also featured model Janice Dickinson, who recent came out as one of Bill Cosby‘s victims.) As a Paris-based terrorist named Rivas, Keitel delivers a memorable riff (in a scene with Kinski) about what he considers good-life essentials: “I’ll tell you what I want. Good food. Women. Good cigars. Good beds with fresh sheets Hot showers in Hilton hotels. New shoes. Poker. Blackjack. Dancing. Clint Eastwood westerns. And you. I knew from looking at your face.”

Rudolf Nureyev, Nastassja Kinski in James Toback’s Exposed.

Toback told me this morning that a major critic said at the time that “only Toback would have written dialogue as arcane as that for an international terrorist.” In fact the line was taken directly from an interview with the real Carlos, Toback said. Everything verbatim except Clint. (more…)

British Eccentrics At Back of Line

Most award-season handicappers believe there’s a relationship between presumed Best Picture favorites among Academy and guild members and the critical rankings provided by Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. You can debate the importance of the latter three sources, but if there’s any cause-and-effect things suddenly don’t look as good for The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, which of course are similar British-flavored dramas about troubled eccentric geniuses.

Award Daily‘s Sasha Stone has posted a ranking of the leading Best Picture contenders by Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes and BFCA criteria, and the Bobbsey twins are ranked eighth and ninth. Eighth-ranked Theory has a 72% and 83% ratings on Metacriitc/RT, and ninth-place Game has been rated 71% and 85% on the two aggregate-tabluation sites. That means they might be nominated but probably can’t win. The top three likely winners by this system are (in this order) Boyhood, Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Variety‘s Gray Links Ferguson Tragedy to Racially-Focused Oscar Race Contender….String Him Up, Twitter Community!

Last Monday night I was all but roasted alive by a Twitter mob for tweeting that the Ferguson Grand Jury decision might, in a gradual, roundabout way, eventually feed into Academy support for Ava DuVernay‘s Selma. This might happen, I tried to suggest, as a ‘strike a match rather than curse the darkness’ response to an otherwise tragic event. And yet three days later DuVernay alluded to a similar symbiosis when she told Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn that the events in Ferguson and Selma 49 years ago were “the same story repeated…the same exact story.” And now New York Post critic Lou Lumenick has posted a piece that evaluates to what extent Ferguson events may help or hinder Selma‘s award-season prospects.

Variety‘s Timothy Gray has joined in also, although his piece asks if reactions to the Ferguson tragedy may also blend into discussions about another racially-focused award season hopeful — Mike Binder and Kevin Costner‘s Black or White.

A child-custody drama that asks whether a young African-American girl should be raised by her affluent, boozy white grandfather (Costner) or by other family members in South Central, Black or White “has an immediacy,” Gray says. “No matter who you think is right in Ferguson, Missouri, this past week’s events prove that race relations in this country are a mess. Hollywood movies have addressed bigotry for many decades and the message is inevitably ‘can’t we all just get along?’ At this point, it’s hard to add something new to the conversation, but writer-director Mike Binder raises points of view that are rarely depicted. (more…)

Poisoned Apple

There are dozens of links to articles stating that real-life Imitation Game hero Alan Turing (played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the just-opened film) had a fascination with Walt Disney‘s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and particularly the poisoned apple given to Snow White by the wicked witch. There are also plenty of links pointing to articles about Turing having apparently committed suicide on 6.7.54 by biting into an apple laced with cyanide.

(l.) Alan Turing in his teens or early 20s; (r.) Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing in The Imitation Game.

Talk about a ripe cinematic image proferred on a silver plate! And yet there’s no poison-apple suicide depicted in The Imitation Game. In his 12.1.14 review of Morten Tyldum‘s film, New Yorker critic Anthony Lane asks “how could a movie director, of all people, not make something of that? Tyldum builds up to it, with scenes of Turing messing about with cyanide and handing out apples at work, but the payoff is missing.” (more…)

Five Rules of Nomination During Biopic Season

Two days ago Screencrush‘s Matt Singer summed up Five Rules for Success in Biopic Season. Five things, in other words, that actors have to do to get nominated for an acting Oscar. One, either gain or lose a ton of weight. Two, age onscreen and not so gracefully. Three, play someone who had great accomplishments but didn’t receive adequate credit (i.e., The Imitation Game). Four, fight against any kind of prejudice (i.e., Imitation Game, Selma). And five, if all else fails sing a song. It’s all listed, referenced and thoroughly explained.

The thrust, obviously, is that Academy voters, saddled with the psychology of abused and needy children, fall for the same routines over and over. (more…)

Game Questionaire

Now that Morten Tyldum and Graham Moore‘s The Imitation Game (Weinstein Co., 11.28) has finally opened, perhaps those who’ve seen it could answer a few questions?

Screeners of The Weinstein Co’s Imitation Game and St. Vincent arrived today.

1. Does the film tell Alan Turing‘s story well and fully, and does it engage the viewer, etc.? Is it a sharp, well-ordered thing — a movie that knows what it’s doing and how to make it all cook and simmer just so, as I said in my original review — or could it use some other ingredient?


New Best of 2014 Tally

I’ve expanded my “pure as the driven snow” Best of 2014 list (originally posted on 11.20) to 27, having added Rob Marshall‘s Into The Woods, Hany Abu-Assad‘s Omar and Charlie McDowell‘s The One I Love to the second-tier 13-to-26 list. Adding Pawel Pawlikowski‘s Ida (which I’ve always regarded as a 2013 film although I understand that most see it as a 2014 release) and you’ve got 27. I’ll update once again after seeing Unbroken on Sunday night, 11.30, followed by Big Eyes and Exodus two or three days later. (I’m currently halfway through an online screener of Nuri Bilge Ceylan‘s Winter Sleep.)

Top Twelve: 1. Birdman (d: Alejandro G. Inarritu); 2. Citizen Four (d: Laura Poitras); 3. Leviathan (d: Andrey Zvyagintsev); 4. Gone Girl (d: David Fincher, who took a film with an airport-lounge plot and made it into something much more resonant); 5. Boyhood (d: Richard Linklater); 6. A Most Violent Year (d: J.C. Chandor); 7. Wild Tales (d: Damian Szifron); 8. A Most Wanted Man (d: Anton Corbijn); 9. The Babadook (d: Jennifer Kent); 10. Locke (d: Steven Knight); 11. Nightcrawler (d: Dan Gilroy); 12. The Drop (d: Michael R. Roskam).


Alice‘s Grim Slide Won’t Interfere With Moore’s Oscar Destiny

When did everyone decide that Julianne Moore was all-but-locked to win the Best Actress Oscar? Roughly two and half months ago, or just after Still Alice, a morose but affecting Lifetime movie about a brilliant college professor suffering from the progressive malice of Alzheimer’s disease, was picked up by Sony Classics out of Toronto on 9.12. But of all the reasons that Moore deserves her big win (and I’m not arguing this in the least — she’ll almost certainly have her Oscar moment on 2.22.15), Still Alice, which I finally saw yesterday, is the least of them.

Moore plays her sad part with delicacy and the depth of feeling that only great actresses seem to fully harness — she’s convincing and then some. But for me, Still Alice is a hellish thing to sit through. It’s a dirge about a kind of death sentence or more precisely a spiritual suffocation, mitigated to some extent by the fact that the condemned (i.e., Moore) is attractive and wealthy and married to a nice man (Alec Baldwin) and surrounded by bright, sensitive family members who care a great deal and can do absolutely nothing to help.

Still Alice is a movie that says “okay, your brain is going to start dying now…okay, the symptoms are getting a little worse now…is the horror of this predicament affecting everyone? Getting worse, still worse…my God, this disease really sucks! And Julianne Moore can’t do anything about it. And neither can you, the viewer. Because we, the filmmakers, have decided that the most sensitive and affecting thing to do is for everyone — Moore, the costars, the audience, Jeffrey Wells sitting on his living room couch — to just ride it out to the end…sadly, gently, compassionately.”


Serious, Rip-Roaring Red Sea Engulfment…Finally

I’ve been waiting for a long, long time to see those mountains of water, rolling and cresting in the big red-sea sequence. In this respect and in terms of general visual panache, Ridley Scott has finally elbowed aside Cecil B. DeMille. The first press screenings of Ridley Scott‘s Exodus: Gods and Kings (or at least the ones I know about) will happen on Wednesday, 12.3. Pic opens nine days later.

The Interview‘s Rogen, Franco Deserve “Stern Punishment,” Says North Korea

A North Korean government-controlled website, Uriminzokkiri, has laid into The Interview, the satiric political comedy opening on 12.25, and, by inference, its star and co-director Seth Rogen, co-director Evan Goldberg and costar James Franco. In the usual blustery, militant tone of official North Korean pronouncements, the statement declared that the filmmakers “must be subject to stern punishment.” Which could mean bare-bottom spanking or something heavier.

“The cheekiness to show this conspiracy movie, which is comprised of utter distortions of the truth and absurd imaginations, is an evil act of provocation against our highly dignified republic and an insult against our righteous people,” the statement said. (more…)