Beasts Is “Overlong, Grim, Grueling, Gripping” And “A Bit Logy”

Variety‘s Justin Chang and The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy have reviewed Cary Fukanaga‘s Beasts of No Nation, which screened today at the Venice Film Festival. Both critics agree that it’s riveting to sit through — a beautifully captured if somewhat traumatizing portrait of a child’s experience of guerilla warfare in Africa, and is therefore no one’s idea of an easy sit or an engaging exotic adventure, much less a date movie. But Idris Elba might have a shot at acting honors, although McCarthy and Chang don’t mention a possible category. I’ve been told that Elba’s role is more of supporting than lead, but what do I know?

Chang calls Beasts an “artful, accomplished but not entirely sustained adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s 2005 debut novel, never quite finding an ideal cinematic equivalent for the singular spareness and ferocity of the author’s prose. By turns lucid and a bit logy, and undeniably overlong, it’s nevertheless the rare American movie to enter a distant land and emerge with a sense of lived-in human experience rather than a well-meaning Third World postcard.”

McCarthy notes that while Fukanaga’s two previous features “also dealt with brutalizing rites of passage suffered by young people — Central Americans making their way through Mexico to the U.S. border in Sin Nombre, a 19th century English orphan girl’s harsh life in Jane EyreBeasts rates as the most disturbing of the three because of the way the pre-pubescent boy at its center is forced to become a ruthless killer.” (more…)

Somewhere in Eastern Europe Where Everyone Speaks English

Partisan (Well Go, 10.2) points to nothing more than a man with a vengeful grievance against the world and an ill-defined messiah complex, using his powers of persuasion over the weak and impressionable to recruit a personal army. Why, is anyone’s guess. Cassel’s measured performance keeps the malevolence mostly under the surface. But Gregori is just not an intriguing enough central character to make this extended exercise in dour artiness more than mildly effective.


Concussion Gets Tackled By N.Y. Times

A 9.2 N.Y. Times story by Ken Belson presents a fairly clear case that Peter Landesman‘s Concussion (Sony, 12.25) isn’t quite the blistering, truth-telling whistleblower drama presented in the just-released trailer.

The forthcoming film dramatizes the true-life saga of Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith), the forensic pathologist who discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE — a then-new disease affecting football players — back in ’02, and how the NFL made his life hell as a result. Belson’s story, which relies on Sony hack e-mails, indicates that Sony execs felt it would be less troublesome from an N.F.L. standpoint to sand off some of the film’s edges.

The title of Belson’s piece, “Sony Altered ‘Concussion’ Film to Prevent N.F.L. Protests, Emails Show,” says it neatly.

Concussion doesn’t open for another four months but whatever the final impressions may be, the film has definitely taken a hit in terms of its integrity. However fair or unfair, perceptions are everything. I don’t know if anyone was thinking all that strongly about Concussion as a 2015 Best Picture contender, but anyone who had thoughts along those lines is probably re-assessing them to some extent. (more…)

Dead-On Assessment

Already a couple of Everest critics are complaining that despite its technical triumphs, Baltasar Kormakur’s film doesn’t deliver enough emotion. Screen Daily‘s Tim Grierson, for one, has written that it’s “oddly uninvolving — it depicts a horrific scenario in an underwhelming, distancing way.” I don’t know what Grierson is on. I was completely caught up in Everest‘s agonizingly gradual death spiral, espeically during the second half. Ten seconds after I read this I sent myself a link to Grierson’s review along with the words “what planet?”

Everest gang early today at 2015 Venice Film Festival: (l. to r.) John Hawkes, Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, Emily Watson, Baltasar Kormakur, Jake Gyllenhaal.

Here’s a more eloquent and (if you ask me) perceptive opinion from Variety‘s Justin Chang:

“This is a movie not about a few human beings who tried to conquer a mountain, but rather a mountain that took no notice of the human beings in its midst. Kormakur doesn’t make the mistake of exalting his subjects as extraordinary individuals, or suggesting that they were obeying some sort of noble higher calling. Everest is blunt, businesslike and — as it begins its long march through the death zone — something of an achievement. The specifics don’t get any clearer, but editor Mick Audsley’s cross-cutting among the different climbing factions creates its own propulsive logic. We get to know the characters not just by their appearances and personalities, but by their different positions on the mountain, where many of them find themselves trapped as a freak storm sets in. (more…)

Everest — The Most Breathtaking Mountain-Climbing Nightmare Flick I’ve Ever Seen

I’ve hiked in the Swiss Alps but I’ve never climbed a rocky mountain. Hell, I’ll probably never even visit Nepal much less get close to Mount Everest. (I’m more of a warm weather/balmy climes type of guy.) But after seeing Baltasar Kormakur‘s Everest (Universal, 9.25) I really and truly feel like I’ve done it all — flown into Kathmandu, climbed the foothills, stayed in the base camps, climbed the damn mountain, run out of oxygen, gotten hit by a rogue blizzard and nearly died. And in 3D with actors I know and like dying around me. But I made it down and recovered and got up and walked into the theatre lobby and hit the bathroom with 12 other guys and thought to myself, “Wow, it’s nice to be alive in a warm sophisticated city with all the amenities. But I’m also glad I just went through hell just now…a blind, howling, frostbitten hell at 29,000 feet.”

It’s a helluva thing, this film, because it doesn’t cheat or exaggerate or use CG that you can spot very easily, and because it puts you right into the grim horror of what happened to eight climbers trying to ascend Everest on May 10th and 11th of 1996. Climbers who were eaten by a mountain that does not suffer fools and doesn’t give a damn about anyone or anything. A mountain that looks at climbers making their way up and says, “You guys think you’re tough and ballsy and maybe you are, but you’d better get used to the possibility of a slow painful death and never seeing your loved ones or pets again. Because I will fuck you like a pig if I get into one of my moods.

I’ve killed more than 250 climbers since the early 20s, and don’t presume you’re not on the list, pal. I can kill anyone, including experienced climbers. Because if you’re fool enough to climb this high and under these conditions, it’s actually pretty easy.”

Everest is realism at its most immersive and forbidding (the 3D is so good you don’t even notice it after a while), and a very strong docudrama with several actor-characters you get to know and like and care about, and edited with exactly the right amount of discipline (there’s no padding or deadweight) and clarity and feeling. It delivers real sadness but it doesn’t squeeze it out because it doesn’t need to. It just lets the facts wrap themselves around you. (more…)

Bodacious Tah-Tah Time Trip

Eight months ago I was told that Josh Gad was “more or less on-board” (i.e., not contractually but emotionally and intentionally) to play Roger Ebert in Russ & Roger Go Beyond, a fact-based comedy about the making of Beyond The Valley of the Dolls. Today The Hollywood Reporter‘s Borys Kit reported that Gad’s people and the Russ & Roger guys have finally “closed the deal.” Terrific, guys — it only took two-thirds of a year!

I still maintain that Jonah Hill, who knows from erudite and whipsmart and intellectual confidence, would have been a much better choice to play the late critic. (more…)

Something Gunky This Way Comes

“You need to see Justin Kurzel‘s Macbeth (Weinstein Co., 12.4) to savor the smoke and the chill and the dampness, the treeless topography, the ash-smeared faces and gooey blood drippings and Michael Fassbender‘s dirty fingernails. The emphasis, no question, is on blood, venality, gray skies, gunk, grime, authentic Scottish locations and general grimness — the basic Game of Thrones-meets-300 elements that, for me, always result in two reactions: (a) ‘This again?’ and (b) ‘Let me outta here.’

“If the grimy, toenail-fungus, sweat-covered scrotum approach turns you on, great…have at it. But I have a lifelong affecion for Shakespeare’s poetry, you see, as well as a general love for the English language, especially when spoken by RADA-trained actors with stirring elocutionary skills. Which is not what you get from Kurzel’s Macbeth, which runs 113 minutes compared to the 140-minute length of Roman Polanski’s 1971 version, which Variety‘s Guy Lodge has patronizingly described as ‘tortured.’ (Lodge to Polanski: “If you only could have somehow put aside those feelings in your system due to your wife’s unfortunate murder…”) (more…)

Click here to jump past the Oscar Balloon

2015 X-Factor, Ambitious, Semi-Fresh, Social Undercurrent, Something More (23)

A Bigger Splash -- Luca Guadagnino (director); Matthias Schoenaerts, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson. Fox Searchlight, presumably sometime in the fall.

Black Mass (Warner Bros.) -- Scott Cooper (director/screenplay); Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sienna Miller, Dakota Johnson. (9.18)

Bridge of Spies (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.

Brooklyn (Fox Searchlight) -- John Crowley (director), Nick Hornby (screenwriter) -- Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Emory Cohen, Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters.

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

Carol (Weinstein Co.) -- Todd Haynes (director); Pyllis Nagy (screenplay, based on Patricia Highsmith novel); Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, Kyle Chandler. Cannes reaction: Best Picture, Best Actress/Supporting Actress, Best Screenplay (Phyllis Nagy).

Concussion -- Peter Landesman (director-writer). Will Smith, Albert Brooks, Alec Baldwin, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Paul Reiser, Luke Wilson. Sony.

The Danish Girl -- Tom Hooper (director). Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Amber Heard, Matthias Schoenaerts.

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.

Joy (20th Century Fox) -- David O. Russell (director/screenplay). Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Édgar Ramirez. 20th Century Fox, 12.25.

Love and Mercy -- Bill Pohlad (director). Oren Moverman, Michael Alan Lerner (screenplay). Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti. Roadside Attractions, 6.5. General post-opening response: Best Picture, Best Actor (Dano, Cusack), Best Director (Bill Pohlad), Best Screenplay (Oren Moverman).

Our Brand Is Crisis (Warner Bros.); David Gordon Green (director); Peter Straughan (screenplay); Sandra Bullock, Scoot McNairy, Billy Bob Thornton, Anthony Mackie, Ann Dowd. WARNING -- possible 2016 release.

The Program -- Stephen Frears (director), Jon Hodge (screenwriter). An Irish sports journalist becomes convinced that Lance Armstrong's performances during the Tour de France victories are fueled by banned substances. Ben Foster, Lee Pace, Chris O'Dowd.

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.

Snowden -- Oliver Stone (director, co-writer). Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Rhys Ifans, Joely Richardson, Timothy Olyphant. Open Road, 12.25.

Spotlight -- Thomas McCarthy (director, co-writer). Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d'Arcy James, Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, Liev Schreiber, Billy Crudup, John Slattery.

Steve Jobs (Universal -- shooting began in 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.

Trumbo (Bleecker Street) -- Jay Roach (director), Michael London (producer), John McNamara (screenwriter). Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, Louis C.K., Helen Mirren, John Goodman.

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.

Probably 2016:

Untitled Warren Beatty/Howard Hughes Drama (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.

Silence (Paramount) -- Martin Scorsese (director); Jay Cocks (screenplay); Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, Issei Ogata, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano. WARNING -- could be 2016 release.

Downgraded After Cannes Screenings or Post-Release:

Aloha (Sony/Columbia) a.k.a. Son of Deep Tiki -- Cameron Crowe (director, writer); Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray, John Krasinski, Danny McBride, Jay Baruchel.

Irrational Man (Sony Classics) -- Woody Allen (director, screenplay); Joaquin Phoenix, Parker Posey, Emma Stone, Jamie Blackley. .

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

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.

2015 Quality-Grade Commercial / alphabetical order (11):

Crimson Peak (Universal / Legendary) -- Guillermo del Toro (director/screenplay); Matthew Robbins, Lucinda Coxon (screenplay); Mia Wasikowska, Tom Hiddleston, Charlie Hunnam, Jessica Chastain, Jim Beaver.

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

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.

In the Heart of the Sea (Warner Bros.) Ron Howard (director); Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy, Tom Holland, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson.

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

Legend (Universal); Brian Helgeland (director, screenwriter); Tom Hardy (playing both Kray twins), Emily Browning.

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

Regression (The Weinstein Company) -- Alejandro Amenábar (director/screenplay); Ethan Hawke, Emma Watson, David Dencik.

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

Trainwreck (Universal) -- Judd Apatow (director/screenplay); Amy Schumer (screenplay); Cast: Amy Schumer, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton, Vanessa Bayer, Ezra Miller, John Cena, Barkhad Abdi, Norman Lloyd.

The Walk (TriStar / ImageMovers) -- Robert Zemeckis (director/screenplay); Christopher Browne (screenplay); Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ben Kingsley, James Badge Dale, Charlotte Le Bon. Sony/TriStar, 10.2.

Pleasingly, Vigorously, Assuredly Mainstream (or something in that realm) / alphabetical order (13):

Criminal (Summit Entertainment) -- Ariel Vromen (director); Douglas Cook, David Weisberg (screenplay); Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman.

Grimsby (Columbia) -- Louis Leterrier (director); Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston (screenplay); Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher, Rebel Wilson, Annabelle Wallis, Ian McShane, Gabourey Sidibe, David Harewood, Johnny Vegas, Penélope Cruz, Scott Adkins.

Mad Max: Fury Road (Warner Bros.) George Miller (director/screenplay); Nick Lathouris, Brendan McCarthy (screenplay); Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Richard Norton, Riley Keough, Courtney Eaton, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Nathan Jones, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

Magic Mike XXL (Warner Bros.) Gregory Jacobs (director); Channing Tatum (screenplay); Cast: Channing Tatum, Matt Bomer, Joe Manganiello, Gabriel Iglesias, Andie MacDowell, Amber Heard, Jada Pinkett Smith, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Glover, Michael Strahan.

The Martian (20th Century Fox) -- Ridley Scott (director); Drew Goddard (screenplay); Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Mackenzie Davis, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Donald Glover, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sebastian Stan.

Masterminds (Relativity Media) -- Jared Hess (director); John Goldwyn, Lorne Michaels (screenplay); Zach Galifianakis, Owen Wilson, Kristen Wiig, Jason Sudeikis.

Mississippi Grind (no distributor) -- Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck (directors, writers). Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Sienna Miller, Ben Mendelsohn, Analeigh Tipton.

Southpaw (Weinstein Co.) -- Antoine Fuqua; Jake Gyllenhaal, Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, Forest Whitaker, Victor Ortiz.

Spectre (MGM / Columbia) -- Sam Mendes (director); John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade (screenplay); Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Disney / Lucasfilm / Bad Robot) -- J.J. Abrams (director/screenplay); Lawrence Kasdan (screenplay); John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Max von Sydow, Lupita Nyong'o, Gwendoline Christie, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker.

Triple Nine (Open Road) -- John Hillcoat (director); Matt Cook (screenplay); Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Chris Allen, Anthony Mackie.


“You’re Different Than Most Girls”

Eddie Redmayne in drag is half-appealing even to straights, so when he succumbs to the feeling of womanhood when holding that dress he seems vulnerable, sincere, genuine. And that’s a big reason why The Danish Girl feels (to go by this trailer) like a smooth and classy stroll through a rarified 1920s realm. It’s clearly made for mainstreamers like myself and not, perish the thought, for the transgender community, which will probably complain about it. But you can feel the delicacy, the sensitivity, the tenderness. Not just in the acting but in the dreamy movie score (piano, strings) by Alexandre Desplat. SAG and the Academy will nominate Redmayne for Best Actor, of course, but I suspect he won’t win. But the film will hit the sweet spot with cultivated viewers.


Little Yellow Pill

Just to keep things amusing I’ve decided to pop out a weekly HE newsletter sheet called Little Yellow Pill. HE regulars don’t need reminders but I’m looking to send ’em out anyway. What the hell, punch up traffic, sell ad space, etc. An award-season thing. I’ve got a list of 10,000 email addresses but we’re looking to keep it real by encouraging everyone to sign up so no one feels pestered. Here’s to the entire HE community — hardcores, filmmakers, lurkers, window-gazers, ubers, casuals, the Irish, Australians, mentally-challenged haters from Twitter, early adopters and intrigued newcomers. Click the “subscribe” tab above or just click on this.


The Demise of the Best Friend

There’s an old, old joke (referenced 34 years ago by N.Y. Times columnist Russell Baker) about the difference between above-the-credit-block and below it. “When Ronald Reagan-for-President talk first started,” Baker wrote, “Jack Warner, one of Mr. Reagan’s Warner Bros. employers, is said to have replied, ‘No, Jimmy Stewart for President — Ronald Reagan for his best friend.'”

Jason Sudekis, Alison Brie doing Sundance publicity for Sleeping with Other People.

There are some people, Warner meant, that just don’t have that marquee quality. And I am telling you that according to my Jack Warner-like standards, Alison Brie, the costar of Sleeping With Other People (IFC Films, 9.11), is best friend material. Which is not a bad thing. It’s fine. But it is what it is.

Brie is Rhoda, not Mary Tyler Moore. If you were to ask Junior Soprano he would say “she’s definitely not Angie Dickinson.” She has an agreeably perky vibe and is pleasantly attractive as far as it goes, but she’s “indie.” When I was watching the film, which by the way is a better-than-decent Manhattan romcom, I kept wanting someone hotter to be playing her part. Something in her eyes just dials it down for me.

Yeah, I know — who am I to talk because I’m older and not the fetching guy with the .400 batting average that I was back in the day? But some people have that “you can’t fuck me because I’m too hot for you” quality and some don’t.

And you know what? I just put my neck in a noose for saying that. Put me on the rack and throw me in jail. Because anyone with eyes knows that Alison Brie, best known for her Annie Edison role on NBC’s Community, is a vision of Venus and absolute thermometer-busting hotness second to none. (more…)

Hide The Ball: Splash Not Feeling Stateside Love

As I suspected/projected earlier this month, Fox Searchlight has given Luca Guadignino‘s A Bigger Splash a spring ’16 release date — May 13th, to be precise, or right in the middle of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival (5.11 to 5.22). And yet this relationship melodrama costarring Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Ralph Fiennes and Matthias Schoenaerts, a remake of Jacques Deray‘s La Piscine (’69) and set on a Mediterranean island, will debut in a few days at the Venice Film Festival, and then will open theatrically in England in October. (And in Germany on 3.31.16.) But U.S. of A. critics not covering Venice may have to wait seven or eight months to see it.


Sure Doesn’t Feel Like 18 Years Ago

I was working at People when Diana, the former Princess of Wales, started seeing Dodi Fayed in July 1997. Two or three of us were asked to search around, make some calls and prepare a file on the guy. Within three or four hours I’d learned that Fayed was an irresponsible playboy, didn’t pay his bills on occasion, lacked vision and maturity and basically wasn’t a man. And yet Diana overlooked this or didn’t want to know. And that’s why she died.

In short she essentially orchestrated her demise due to choosing a profligate immature asshole for a boyfriend. Fayed was just foolish and insecure enough, jet-setting around with his father’s millions and looking to play the protective stud by saving Diana from the paparazzi, to put her in harm’s way. (more…)

Sudekis Moving Past Twerps? Great…But The After-Vibe Lingers

After playing nothing but sardonic twerps, sexual hounds and domestic dolts for the last six or seven years in Hall Pass, A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, Horrible Bosses, The Campaign, Drinking Buddies, We’re the Millers and Horrible Bosses 2, Jason Sudekis has suddenly turned over a new leaf and shifted into “heartthrob territory” in Sleeping With Other People (IFC Films, 9.11).

That’s the basic notion, at least, contained in yesterday’s 8.30 N.Y. Times profile of Sudekis by Kathryn Shattuck.

I’ve seen and had a pretty good time with Sleeping With Other People. There’s no question that Sudekis does a fine job of playing his best-written character yet — a smart, sensitive 30something sex-addict named Jake. A guy who seems relatively mature and balanced and open to the moment, and who knows how to treat a lady with kindness and tact. And who definitely knows what to do with his fingers.

I muttered to myself right away, “Okay, for once Sudekis is playing a guy who’s not only tolerable but somebody I can identify with.” (more…)

Satan Laughing With Delight

I don’t care if this video is a year old. I watched this about 15 times last weekend and I can’t get it out of my head. Look at that poor little girl’s expression when this godawful harridan takes the ball from her. And then the pixie-cut thief celebrates her triumph! Has she been flown to Syria and handed over to ISIS yet? Has anyone ever confronted her on the street and accused her of being one the worst people to walk the planet ever? I’ll bet even Heinrich Himmler never did this to a kid.

Tarantino Kinda Busted By Leydon Over Numerous Similarities Between Hateful Eight and 55 Year-Old “Rebel” Episode

In a just-posted Cowboys & Indians piece called “Quentin Tarantino: Rebel Filmmaker?”, Variety critic Joe Leydon has noted several similarities between the basic plot bones of Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight (Weinstein Co., 12.25) and an episode from the Nick Adams western series The Rebel (’59 to ’61) called “Fair Game.” The episode, written by Richard Newman, premiered on 3.27.60 as one of 33 Rebel episodes directed by Irvin (The Empire Strikes Back) Kershner.

I’ve read a draft of the Hateful Eight script and to go by Leydon’s synopsis of “Fair Game”, there are quite a few plot points shared by the two. If you’re willing to supply your credit card information (which I’m not — fuck these guys) “Fair Game” is watchable right here.

Leydon is quick to say that he’s “not accusing Quentin Tarantino of plagiarism.” He notes that everybody stole from everybody else back in the old TV days, and that Tarantino has already admitted to Deadline‘s Michael Fleming that he drew inspiration for The Hateful Eight “from such fondly remembered series as Bonanza and The Virginian.” QT to Fleming: “What if I did a movie starring no heroes, no Michael Landons? Just a bunch of nefarious guys in a room, all telling backstories that may or may not be true. Trap those guys together in a room with a blizzard outside, give them guns, and see what happens.” (more…)

Basic Dramatic Fulfillment

In an 18 year-old Paris Review piece inexplicably linked to by Movie City News, David Mamet explains “the trick of dramaturgy” as follows: “The main question in drama…is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.”

And that’s fine, but I’ve long believed that the most affecting kind of drama (or comedy even) is one in which the main protagonist wants something and then somewhere during Act Two discovers that he/she actually wants something else. Something that is less a thing of mood or sexuality or a longing for wealth or advancement and more of a tender, deeper, more emotional longing. A personal growth move, falling in love, doing the right moral thing. A character who stays with the same desire all the way through a play or a film is not, in my view, an interesting one. We don’t want to see the protagonist’s wishes “fulfilled or absolutely frustrated,” as Mamet says. We want to see those wishes evolve and thereby reveal something unexpected. (more…)

“Who Are You?”

“I have found a disease that no one has ever seen.” In Peter Landesman‘s Concussion (Columbia, 12.25), Will Smith plays Dr. Bennet Omalu, the Nigerian-Born, real-life forensic pathologist who 13 years ago discovered chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE — a then-new disease affecting football players. When he revealed his findings the NFL naturally did everything they could to discredit him. What else were they going to do?

You can sense right away that Smith’s Nigerian accent feels right, and this alone may put him into the Best Actor conversation. Because it feels like “acting,” and a lot of folks eat that shit up.

As things now stand Concussion is one of five award-season contenders due to open on 12.25 — this plus The Revenant, Snowden, Joy and The Hateful Eight. That’s a lot of Christmas Day competition. The only semi-uplifting film in the bunch is Joy. I’m guessing that at least one of others will blink and move their date to early December or perhaps even late November. (more…)

What Is 2015’s Best-Known Signature Line?

“I drink your milkshake.” “If it ain’t, it’ll do till the mess gets here.” “Fame has a fifteen minute half-life — infamy lasts a little longer.” “Show me the money.” “I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” “Nobody’s perfect.” “Made it, ma — top of the world!”

I’ve been racking my brain and the only stand-out line from a 2015 film that I can think of is “Baskin Robbins always finds out.” From Ant-Man, of course. A catchy meme is never just catchy — it needs to spread out and take root out when you think about it for 10 or 12 seconds. And when you let the Baskin-Robbins line percolate you realize it’s just another way of saying (a) everything comes out in the wash, (b) there are no secrets in 2015, (c) a possibly benevolent Big Brother is listening 24/7, and (d) Edward Snowden accomplished too little and acted too late, etc.

I’m presuming there are other signature lines from films released during the first two-thirds of 2015. Please submit for consideration.

First Surfacing of the “Honest Trailers” Aesthetic

It occurred to me this morning that Jack Davis‘s legendary Long Goodbye poster (which was drawn, of course, in the Mad magazine illustrator’s trademark style — big heads, spindly legs, big feet) was an early print version of the playfully critical style of Honest Trailers. Except the dialogue balloons in Davis’s poster aren’t that playful — they’re bluntly critical by suggesting that The Long Goodbye is a coarse, somewhat tasteless film with a less than stellar lead (i.e., Elliott Gould) and a cast of curious eccentrics, two of which are portrayed by Hollywood interlopers (Nina van Pallandt, Jim Bouton). It was almost a warning to the none-too-hip crowd of 1973 that they might want to see something else. I’ve always worshipped the Davis poster but a smart one-sheet always appeals to the dolts along with the hipsters. What other theatre-lobby posters have suggested to Average Joes that they might not want to patronize this or that film?