Same Old Eye-Poppy Recap

As I began watching this Ben Zuk tribute recap of 2014 films, I said to myself, “Gee, with all this spritzy, pop-pop energy and visual whammo you’d never realize that 2014 was a relatively weak year.” But then that awful tinny music began seeping into the bloodstream and I became quickly apparent that Zuk was making no attempt at all to capture the interior rumble in all these films…the themes and ideas and the character bits and the dialogue…zero interest in the adult undercurrent stuff. This video is like all the other year-end recaps, pitched to the easy-lay submentals who want nothing more than rapid-fire cutting and fast-flash bullshit.

Much Rather Re-Watch This Than Clink Glasses at New Year’s Eve Party

A little over seven months ago I completely flipped over Andrey Zvagintsev‘s Leviathan, which finally opens today. My 5.22 mini-review was titled “Crushes It — Almost Certain to Win Palme d’Or.” Two days later the Cannes jury gave Leviathan a piddly screenwriting award and handed the prestigious Palme d’Or to Nuri Bilge Ceylan‘s Winter Sleep, which I’ve since seen and quite enjoyed. The Ceylan is a mesmerizing, superbly constructed character piece — I was completely in its spell and barely noticed the running time — but it lacks the epic, symphonic power of the Zvagintsev (which is pronounced ZivYAHgintsev). Leviathan is a drop-dead brilliant, awesomely-composed-in-every-respect melodrama and moral tale that concurrently serves as a microcosm of (or metaphor for) a morally compromised, ruthlessly malevolent, bare-knuckled Russia. Political corruption, lust and infidelity, way too much vodka, blackmail and thuggery, gunshots, bromide-dispensing priests who kowtow to powerful scumbags, huge whale skeletons, crashing waves, rotting ships — this puppy has it all plus the aura of a majesterial art film plus opening and closing musical passages by Phillip Glass plus the most beautifully lighted, handsomely composed widescreen photography (by Mikhail Krichman) I’ve seen in a long time. And the acting — Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Dmitri Seleznev, Aleksey Serebryakov, Anna Ukolova — isn’t ‘acting’ but rooted, rock-solid behavior that kicks ass all the way around the block and back to your driveway.”

All Hail Violent Foreplay

There’s a line in a review of J.C. Chandor’s A Most Violent Year, written by Metro‘s Matt Prigge, that caught my eye this morning. The New York-based crime and heating-oil film, he said, is “all foreplay, but it’s good foreplay.” It’s actually mostly foreplay, not all. Because the movie “comes” at least four or five times. Or seven or eight times if your definition of a cinematic orgasm is on the liberal, less-strict side. What Prigge means is that A Most Violent Year never explodes in any kind of wild-ass, gun-crazy, super-splatter showoff fashion. It doesn’t give you an orgasm that leaves you panting and spent.

That’s because Chandor is keeping it “real”, which is a concept or approach that 90% of the action-film directors have pretty much thrown out the window. Their movies have foreplay, of course, as all action sequences have to deliver some kind of semi-realistic, semi-logical motivation, but the emphasis is always on climaxes, and as many as can be fit in. Except life in general is almost entirely foreplay. How often do people experience orgasms in their lives, apart from sexually? Damn seldomly. And yet 90% of moviegoers buy tickets with the expectation of experiencing one shuddering Kama Sutra moment after another.

Chandor’s film currently has a 92% Rotten Tomatoes and 84% Meteoritic rating, which obviously places it in the upper bracket of must-sees. But of course, as I noted on 11.7, there’s that title to get past.

“Violence certainly happens from time to time [in the film] but why J.C. decided to call it A Most Violent Year is…well, I don’t get it,” I wrote. “It’s about a highly disciplined, super-determined guy (Queens-based heating-oil supplier Oscar Isaac) trying very hard to solve his problems with honor and smarts and without resorting to violence or allowing his employees to do the same. It’s about clannish groups and predatory behavior and laws and bank loans and oil storage tanks and the whims of prosecutors. It’s an urban-jungle story in which violence only punctuates the story like periods and commas punctuate a typical paragraph. (more…)

Schultz Suddenly Enraged At Foxcatcher and Miller Over Homoerotic Undercurrents

Bennett Miller‘s Foxcatcher is about how a strange, obsessive, ostensibly Olympics-driven relationship between Pennsylvania millionaire John Dupont (Steve Carell) and former Olympic wrestling champ Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) led to Dupont shooting Mark’s older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo). The real-life Schultz has been highly complementary of the film and Miller over the last several months, but he’s suddenly changed his tune and thrown both under the bus, apparently over concerns that the film points to a homoerotic undercurrent between Carell/duPont and Tatum/Schultz.

Schultz has totally ripped into Miller on Twitter, calling him “scum” and declaring that “we’re done” and that he’s going to take Miller down, etc. He’s obviously quite upset but why the sudden turnabout? The film opened nearly six weeks ago, but Schultz seems to have suddenly decided that homoerotic interpretations by reviewers are hurting his reputation. It’s possible, I suppose, that Schultz’s Twitter account has been hacked (?). I’ve asked Miller and a Foxcatcher publicist what they know or suspect about this, but you know how people get when something like this blows up — they hunker down and dive into the bunker.

If Schultz has literally tweeted all this stuff it sounds to me like a delayed case of homosexual panic — not literally about gayness but media perceptions of his having had some kind of suppressed gay dynamic with duPont, which Schultz believes is harming his rep. Although he’s written that the gay element in Foxcatcherwasn’t explicit [and] so I didn’t have a problem with it,” he’s now blaming Miller and the film for slipping this perception into the conversation.

I’m presuming Schultz might also be pissed that Channing portrays him as scowling, emotionally constipated and seriously inarticulate, which usually indicates some degree of emotional repression…but again, why six weeks after the film opened?

If Foxcatcher reps don’t get in front of Schultz’s charges and try to frame them in a fair and proper context, this will probably harm Foxcatcher as far as Academy nominations are concerned, particularly Carell’s possible Best Actor nomination. It gives people a reason to step back and say “hmmm, maybe not…maybe vote for someone or something else.” (more…)

No Love Or Like, But A Certain Respect

Anyone can tap out a worst-films-of-the-year list. Pick this or that from the slush heap and it doesn’t matter. What can “worst” possibly mean in this, an era of corporate franchise zombie films overwhelming almost everything in a megaplex sense? How many years ago did Andrew Sarris note that “the bottom has fallen out of badness in movies?” In the early ’80s, I think it was, and he could’t have foreseen how absent that “bottom” would truly become. The point (and I realize this paragraph isn’t exactly flowing from thought to thought) is that mature and knowledgable film lovers will never dismiss a formidable, strongly flavored, well-made film just because they didn’t enjoy watching it. You have to take yourself out of the equation and step back and evaluate a film cold and clean. Once you’ve done that, jump back in and fire at will.

Hundreds of times I’ve said “I didn’t like watching this film and in fact I kind of hated it on a certain level and I was enormously relieved when it ended, but it’s not half bad, and in fact I respect where it’s coming from and I would never call its admirers wrong or delusional.” I know enough about movies to be able to say this. Just because a flick didn’t ring my little personal cowbell doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve praise from others and perhaps even tribute from the Movie Godz (although I’m in fairly close contact with those guys and rarely have a difference of opinion with them).

How then to start my list of 2014 films that I personally found agonizing or depressing to sit through, but which are far from bad or dismissable? I know from experience that I can always start by referencing Karina Longworth‘s best of the year list. The author and former L.A. Weekly/Village Voice film critic is a brilliant filmologist and knows her stuff cold, but her personal end-of-the-year favorites are almost always “what?” to me. Ditto New Yorker film critic and columnist Richard Brody. There are plenty more where these two are coming from. Dennis Lim, Gavin Smith…guys like that. Elite sensibilities. Ivory tower-ists. Year after year I ask myself, “How could these guys live on more or less the same planet that I do and sincerely praise these movies as among the very best? What am I missing? Do I need to change my diet?” (more…)

Away From The Revelry

This is the final day of 2014…big deal. Tomorrow will be the first day of 2015…and what of it? I feel great about a lot of stuff, mind. Best time of my life. I just don’t care about New Year’s Eve bullshit, and staying out until 3 am ruins the following day. This is a lousy town to celebrate in anyway, time-zone-wise. Everyone has already whoo-hoo’d and guzzled the bubbly and stumbled home and gone to sleep by the time midnight hits Los Angeles. Paris is the place to be.

The cooler and deeper you are, the quieter and more away-from-the-madding-crowd your New Year’s Eve is. I know a lady who says she always does it solo — meditating, painting, incense. Okay, maybe that’s taking it a bit too far in the other direction. I suspect that those who take really long showers are almost certainly among those who whoop it up on New Year’s Eve. In both instances they’re looking for comfort, for that womb-like security and sublime relaxation that comes from steaming hot water and alcohol and the embrace of fair-weather friends.

Every new day is a renewal, and the time to celebrate that is the early morning. And yet I’ve known people in my life who actually wake up in a bad mood. (My ex-wife was one of them.) How is that possible? How could the metaphor be lost on them? (more…)

Oscar Victim

I shouldn’t be admitting this but I didn’t know quite what to say or think when I heard about the death of Luise Rainer, the two-time Oscar winner who lived for 104 years. That’s because I never wanted to watch The Great Ziegfeld (’36), for which Rainer won her first Best Actress Oscar, nor The Good Earth, for which she won her second Oscar. I just never wanted to watch either, and there are very few significant ’30s films that I haven’t seen. Wiki graph: “By winning two consecutive Oscars, Rainer later noted, nothing worse could have happened to her, as audience expectations from then on would be too high to fulfill. Some film historians consider her the “most extreme case of an Oscar victim in Hollywood mythology.”

(more…)

HE to Academy: Grinning, Eye-Popping Sociopath Over Prosthetic-Nosed Closet Case

Oscar nomination balloting began yesterday, of course. One of the big teeter-totter contests is over position #5 in the Best Actor race — Foxcatcher‘s Steve Carell vs. Nightcrawler‘s Jake Gyllenhaal. A popularity contest between two likable actors, one tall and buff and younger and broad-shouldered, the other a bit older and a bit shorter and narrow-shouldered and often bearded. Both playing sociopaths who are more or less inhuman. I’m a Gyllenhaal supporter because I recognize the monster inside Lou, the video shooter — open, eager, ultra-polite, calculating. He’s a creep you can deal with if you keep your distance. On the other hand Carell‘s John DuPont is somebody you just want to squash like a bug. You can’t help but admire the way Carell suggests all kinds of deep down fucked-up stuff — a mixture of pride, anger, maternal resentment, control-freak mania, homosexual repression and bad genes. I just think it’s fair to ask how arresting or standout-ish his performance would be without the prosthetic nose. For what it’s worth, Gyllenhaal over Carell.

Won’t Suffer Fools

I love Mike Leigh‘s personality, his manner. He just says it and come what may. To me that’s the mark of a real artist. Several years ago he upbraided me at the Spirit Awards for asking the wrong kind of question. He didn’t like my attitude. He’s very blunt and real. In this Hollywood Reporter round-table discussion he’s asked about the prospect of developing a film for 12 years, and Leigh says “I haven’t got 12 years.” Neither Mr. Turner nor Leigh are likely to be nominated for Best Picture or Best Director, but he’s a very good guy. You know who might be nominated for Best Director? Angelina Jolie. Because Unbroken made so much money over the Christmas holiday.

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Let Me Get This Straight

Everything all along has pointed to North Korea being the prime mover behind the Sony hack. The North Korean government has denied involvement but otherwise indicated it was completely delighted with the results of the hack. On 12.17 N.Y. Times reporters David Sanger and Nicole Perlruth ran a story saying that “senior administration officials who would not speak on the record about the intelligence findings have concluded that North Korea was ‘centrally involved’ in the hacking of Sony Pictures computers.” An apparent response followed when North Korea’s internet was blacked out, presumably by Obama administration operatives.

But now UPI.com’s Francis Burns is reporting that the hacking may have been an inside job by a disgruntled former Sony employee. A woman, in fact. Kurt Stammberger, a senior vp with the security firm Norse, believes [that] “the hacking was an inside job. Stammberger said the team has even identified one possible perpetrator, a woman who worked for Sony for 10 years before losing her job in a recent reorganization.”

Hold on…I’m not following. The whole North Korea narrative is, what, imaginary? Or did this woman somehow feed information to someone else who assisted the Guardians of Peace, the hackers who claimed responsibility for the Sony hack? I’m completely confused. (more…)

“I’ve Never Felt Freer”

In response to Joseph Califano‘s 12.26 Washington Post Op-Ed piece that sharply disputed Selma‘s portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson as being reluctant to support voting rights legislation, director Ava DuVernay tweeted yesterday that “folks should interrogate history…don’t take my word for it or LBJ’s rep for it…let it come alive for yourself.” I tried that yesterday by reaching out to LBJ historians Robert Caro, Robert Dallek and Ronnie Dugger…no dice. DuVernay’s film essentially portrays Johnson as a pragmatic, vaguely patronizing racist (i.e., that dismissive pat on the shoulder of David Oyelowo‘s Martin Luther King) who had to be pressured into pushing for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Tom Wilkinson‘s LBJ “offers a few shadings and nuances,” as I noted yesterday, “but mainly you remember his disagreements with King and saying ‘not now.’” So this morning I captured this anecdote from former Johnson administration attorney Roger Wilkins in David Grubin‘s LBJ, a PBS American Experience doc that originally aired in 1991.

How reluctant was Johnson to push for voting rights legislation in early ’65? Was he in fact reluctant, as Selma dramatizes? Perhaps he expressed concerns along these lines at some point. But yesterday’s HE story contains a White House recording of a 1.15.65 discussion between Johnson and Martin Luther King that undermines Selma‘s view.

David McCullough‘s narration of LBJ quotes Johnson as saying that while some men have called the White House a prison, “I’ve never felt freer.”

There’s a story that came from James Farmer, leader of the Congress of Racial Equality, in an 8.24.08 New Yorker story by George Packer called “LBJ’s Moment”: “I asked him how he got to be the way he was,” Farmer recalled. “He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Well, here you are, calling senators, twisting their arms, threatening them, cajoling them, trying to line up votes for the Civil Rights Bill when your own record on civil rights was not a good one before you became Vice President. So what accounted for the change?” Johnson thought for a moment and wrinkled his brow and then said, ‘Well, I’ll answer that by quoting a good friend of yours and you will recognize the quote instantly. ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, I’m free at last.’”’ (more…)

Tell Me A Story

Thanks to Awards Daily‘s Ryan Adams for slapping this together. I didn’t know he had the skill set. The bird-helmet hair is really quite exacting. Must have taken a while to get right. Hats off.

Paint It Black

“Misery in Abderrahmane Sissako‘s Timbuktu, which is set in the Timbuktu region of Mali, a mostly barren African nation that few people in this country have heard of, is very hard-core. Shot in Mauritania, it’s about the 2012 occupation of Timbuktu by Ansar Dine, a relentlessly purist, wacked-out Islamic militia dedicated to enforcing Sharia law and order. The film was partly inspired by a public stoning of an unmarried couple in Aguelhok, in eastern Mali, but that’s just another pebble in the pond. I think we all know about the pitch-black souls of nutter Islamics by now.

Timbuktu is in no way boring. Sissako knows how to tell a riveting tale and keep you engrossed, but good God. This is a film about dirt-poor hardscrabble types living in various states of misery and deprivation, powerless, at times terrified and always subject to rigid judgments and brutalities. An awful way to live. If there’s an uglier, crueler, more inhumane, more rancid belief system or culture than Islamic fundamentalism, I’d like to know what it is. The earth needs to be absolutely cleansed of this scourge. Welcome, western audiences, to life in one of the worst ideological desert prison camps ever created.” — from my 11.18 review, titled :Hell In The Desert.”

Selma Oscar Hopes Bruised by Califano Op-Ed Piece

I’ve always regarded Lyndon Johnson with mixed emotions. He ruined his legacy with his horribly misguided Vietnam policies, of course. But domestically he wanted to be a benevolent Big Daddy — a compassionate liberal whose instincts found fruition with his Great Society programs along with his support of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. I know that Johnson’s rural-type manner always reminded me of my paternal grandfather, an earthy guy who hailed from Kentucky and spoke with a drawl. LBJ was also known to be crude in certain ways and I suspect that deep down he probably had less than fully enlightened attitudes toward blacks. But I’ve never believed he was a patronizing racist who didn’t take blacks all that seriously and who pushed for the Voting Right Acts only when he was politically forced to. But that’s how Johnson is more or less portrayed in Ava DuVernay‘s Selma. Tom Wilkinson‘s LBJ offers a few shadings and nuances, but mainly you remember his disagreements with Martin Luther King (i.e., David Oyelowo) and his saying “not now” and dismissively patting King’s shoulder in the Oval Office.

Last Friday (12.26) a Washington Post op-ed piece by Joseph Califano, Jr., President Johnson’s top liaison for domestic affairs from 1965 to 1969, called bullshit on Selma‘s portrayal of Johnson. “The film falsely portrays President Lyndon B. Johnson as being at odds with Martin Luther King Jr. and even using the FBI to discredit him, as only reluctantly behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and as opposed to the Selma march itself,” Califano wrote. “In fact, [the] Selma [demonstration] was LBJ’s idea, he considered the Voting Rights Act his greatest legislative achievement, he viewed King as an essential partner in getting it enacted — and he didn’t use the FBI to disparage him.”

I’m no LBJ scholar but I was surprised to see Wilkinson’s Johnson tell J. Edgar Hoover to use the MLK sex tapes to pressure King into backing off. I know that Hoover told Johnson about King’s philandering (and that he might have played portions of the tapes for him) but I’ve never read that LBJ used them to make things uncomfortable for King, and I frankly doubt that he did that. (more…)

Spitballing 2015 Best Picture Winner

The consensus that 2014 had been, relatively speaking, a weak year will not be repeated in 2015. Entertainment Weekly‘s 2015 preview barely has a clue, but the coming year, above and beyond of the locust plague of franchise films, will be good in terms of quality-level, Hollywood Elsewhere-supported fare. Over the last 24 hours I’ve done a bit more research and am now looking at what will almost certainly be the top Best Picture candidates 12 months from now. You almost don’t need to see them to “know.” All you need are the basic elements — filmmakers, budget, story, theme — and the aroma. I don’t know very much but nine…okay, eight times out of ten my instincts are correct. And they’re telling me that Steve Jobs, Truth, St. James Place, The Walk and Collision are probably going to be at the top of the heap after it all shakes out.

What do I actually know about these films? Next to nothing, but I have a pretty good nose for this stuff. The more comments, the better. This needs to be kicked around. (more…)

Annual New Year’s Blessing

Posted eight years ago: “I’d say ‘Happy New Year’ to everyone, but…all right, ‘Happy New Year.’ But I’ve always hated those words. Nothing’s ‘happy’ by way of hope. Happy is discovered, earned, lucked into. At best, people are content or…you know, joyously turned on for the moment or laughing or telling a funny story or a good joke. Placated, relaxed, enthused, generous of heart…but ‘happy’? Clams are happy. There’s only the hum. Either you hear it or you don’t.

Posted in 2010: “Nothing fills me with such spiritual satisfaction as my annual naysaying of this idiotic celebration of absolutely nothing.

“I love clinking glasses with cool people at cool parties as much as anyone else, but celebrating renewal by way of the hands of a clock and especially in the company of party animals making a big whoop-dee-doo has always felt like a huge humiliation.

“Only idiots believe in the idea of a of a midnight renewal. Renewal is a constant. Every minute marks the potential start of something beautiful and cleansing, and perhaps even transforming. So why hang back and celebrate a rite that denies this 24/7 theology, and in a kind of idiot-monkey way with party hats and noisemakers?

(more…)

Click here to jump past HE Sink-In

By all that is right, fair and profound, a film that wins the Best Picture Oscar should pass the “wow!” test. Agreed, many past winners haven’t lived up to this standard. Time and again Academy voters have rewarded films that comfort or affirm basic truths or remind us, movingly, how things are. Or how we’d like them to be. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Well, now and then there is. Within the last 12 years the Best Picture Oscar has been handed to Chicago, Crash, The King’s Speech and The Artist, or what I call The Four Embarrassments. But in the hearts and minds of those who watch over this town and this industry, Best Picture winners should turn heads, open doors, make history, raise a few eyebrows and rock the rafters on some level or another. They should make you say “Wow, I just saw something!” And they should at least make you want to watch them a second time, if not a third or fourth.

A few days ago I watched Alejandro G. Inarritu‘s Birdman for the fifth time, on a 55-inch TV with friends who hadn’t seen it before, and I swear to God it hadn’t diminished. It still pops and chortles and lurches around and slides into home plate like a champ. Lord knows I’m not saying it’s a “better” film than Boyhood or Selma or The Imitation Game, its three biggest competitors. (What does that mean anyway?) But it’s the only film that melts into itself like music and which flies above Tin Pan Alley and reminds that the spirit of Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 is alive and well in the 21st Century. And it’s one of the few comedies I’ve seen in my life that could be called sad or autumnal or…what’s the word, whiplashy? Or which foregoes the mere telling of jokes or eliciting of laughter for what you might call withering God’s-eye humor.

Is “God” capable of laughing at anything? Can He/She even be bothered? Perhaps not, but if He/She has the slightest interest in our struttings and frettings, Birdman suggests that He/She might have a sardonic attitude. Certainly when it comes to the spectacle of an older, used-to-be-hot actor who mocks Twitter and doesn’t even have a Facebook page…a guy with problems and demons trying to re-float his boat in choppy seas…a guy who isn’t hip enough to understand that nobody wears white Fruit-of-the-Loom underwear…a guy who’s trying to make it all come out right despite the fact he’s scared shitless and wondering what the hell…a guy who’s teetering like a bowling pin…a guy who certainly could use and for the most part deserves heavenly compassion (i.e., a break) but is forced to do without it for most of Birdman’s running time.

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2015: Trying Again

12.29, 9 am Pacific Update: On 12.22 I posted a rundown of 2015 films that seem fairly promising. A few other films were posted by commenters over the next day or so. Here’s another rundown with an attempt to break them into unfair categories but…call it a work in progress, like anything else. We’re talking at least 17 films that look really good, and about 15 that seem at least moderately intriguing and might be better than that. In all likelihood, the 2015 Best Picture winner is among the top 17. Top contenders: Steve Jobs, Silence, St. James Place, Hughes, The Revenant, Truth, Our Brand Is Crisis, Money Monster, Demolition.

X-Factor “Extra”, Semi-Fresh, Social Undercurrent…Something More (17):

Steve Jobs (Universal — shooting begins filming next month or January 2015, which indicates an intention to bring it out by late ’15) — Danny Boyle (director), Aaron Sorkin (screenplay), Scott Rudin (producer); Cast: Michael Fassbender, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Katherine Waterston.

The Revenant (20th Century Fox) — Alejandro González Inarritu (director/screenplay); Mark “nobody can remember my middle initial” Smith (screenplay); Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson.

Money Monster (TriStar/Sony — apparently shooting in early ’15) — Jodie Foster (director); Jamie Linden, Alan DiFiore, Jim Kouf (screenplay). Cast: George Clooney, Jack O’Connell, Julia Roberts. Question: Same as Silence, will it shoot early enough?, etc.

Hughes (no distributor) — Warren Beatty (director, writer); Warren Beatty, Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Taissa Farmiga, Chace Crawford, Candice Bergen.

Truth (no distributor) — James Vanderbilt (director, writer — based on the 2005 memoir “Truth and Duty” by Mary Mapes); Cast: Robert Redford, Cate Blanchett, Elisabeth Moss, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Bruce Greenwood.

Our Brand Is Crisis (Warner Bros.); David Gordon Green (director); Peter Straughan (screenplay); Sandra Bullock, Scoot McNairy, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd.

Everest (Universal) — Baltasar Kormákur (director); Justin Isbell, William Nicholson (screenplay); Jake Gyllenhaal, Josh Brolin, Jason Clarke, John Hawkes, Sam Worthington, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright.

Demolition (Fox Searchlight) — Jean-Marc Vallee (director); Bryan Sipe (screenplay); Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper.

Black Mass (Warner Bros.) — Scott Cooper (director/screenplay); Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller, Dakota Johnson.

Hail Caesar (Universal — listed as a February 2016 release but if the film turns out to be half as good as the crackling script, it’ll be criminal to relegate it to a dump month); Joel and Ethan Coen (directors, screenplay); Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill.

St. James Place (Touchstone / DreamWorks / 20th Century Fox) — Steven Spielberg (director); Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen (screenplay); Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, Alan Alda, Billy Magnussen, Eve Hewson.

Life (no distributor) — Anton Corbijn (director); Luke Davies (screenplay); Robert Pattinson, Dane DeHaan, Ben Kingsley, Joel Edgerton.

The Walk (TriStar / ImageMovers) — Robert Zemeckis (director/screenplay); Christopher Browne (screenplay); Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, Charlotte Le Bon.

Carol (Weinstein Co.) — Todd Haynes (director); Pyllis Nagy (screenplay, based on Patricia Highsmith novel); Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler.

By The Sea (Universal) — Angelina Jolie (director, screenwriter). Cast: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Niels Arestrup, Mélanie Laurent.

Sea of Trees (no distributor) — Gus Van Sant (director); Chris Sparling (screenplay); Matthew McConaughey, Ken Watanabe, Naomi Watts, Katie Aselton, Jordan Gavaris.

Knight of Cups (no distributor) — Terrence Malick (director); Hanan Townshend screenplay); Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Brian Dennehy, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Wes Bentley, Isabel Lucas, Teresa Palmer.

May Not Be Released in 2015:

Silence (Paramount) — Martin Scorsese (director); Jay Cocks (screenplay); Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Issei Ogata, Adam Driver, Ken Watanabe.

Intriguingly Commercial (14):

Tomorrowland (Disney) — Brad Bird (director, cowriter); Damon Lindelof (co-writer); George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Thomas Robinson, Kathryn Hahn, Tim McGraw, Keegan-Michael Key, Judy Greer.

The Hateful Eight (Weinstein Co.) — Quentin Tarantino (director-writer); Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demián Bichir, Kurt Russell.

Ricki and the Flash (TriStar) — Jonathan Demme (director); Diablo Cody (screenplay); Meryl Streep, Mamie Gummer, Kevin Kline, Sebastian Stan, Rick Springfield, Ben Platt.

Midnight Special (Warner Bros.) — Jeff Nichols (director/screenplay); Cast: Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Joel Edgerton.

The Last Face (distributor) — Sean Penn (director); Erin Dignam (screenplay); Charlize Theron, Javier Bardem, Adèle Exarchopoulos. (more…)

Most Idiotic Battle Scene Ever

In my 80% positive 11.12 review of Clint Eastwood‘s American Sniper I mentioned a scene that I found hugely irritating. And still do, having seen the film twice now. Sniper‘s been playing four or five days now so some will know what I’m referring to. It’s an Act Two scene in which Bradley Cooper‘s Chris Kyle is suddenly caught in a Iraqi firefight while phoning his wife Taya, played by Sienna Miller. She’s naturally startled, and as the battle quickly intensifies she gets more and more riled and as she cries out to Cooper, asking him what’s going on and is he okay and so on (“Baby? Baby?”). As soon she said those words, I went nuts. What does she expect him to say? Does she actually think he’s going to put down his weapon and explain to her what’s going on, as if she can’t figure it out?

Miller knows, of course, that Cooper is in a combat zone in order to shoot guys, and that firefights are part of the basic drill. So why does she freak out? Is she hoping he’ll get back on the line and say, “Hi, baby…yeah, yeah, I know…they’re shooting at us now…but don’t worry! Anyway, I can’t really talk right now, okay? I might get, you know, killed if I don’t defend myself so if it’s cool I’ll call you back later. I’ll be okay, sweetheart. I just have to put the phone down and focus on killing the enemy. You understand, right? It’s not that I don’t love you or don’t want to talk to you. It’s just now is not the best time to talk…okay?” (more…)

Sometime Around 1946

This is not only a solid professional job, but the casting choices for a 1946 version of Into The Woods are spot-on. I’m looking around for the name of the artist.