One of the most terribly-titled films also begins with one of the most terribly dull scenes. Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks) is driven to the airport by his wife (Katherine Keener, whom we never see again). Clumsily, screenwriter Billy Ray (Breach) sets up the parallels between Phillips and his eventual captor, Somali pirate leader Muse (Barkhad Abdi). Both have bosses putting pressure on them, yadda yadda. We get it.
On the flip side, the segments of the film set in the world of the pirates are among the best. We get a little bit of the economics of getting a job -- a qat bribe helps! -- and why the Somali pirates do what they do. (Anti-piracy advocates take heart, the movie is still slanted against them and toward the rah-rah Navy SEAL sniper team that comes to put an end to their enterprise.)
Director Paul Greengrass does what he did in United 93, casting non-actors in their real-world roles -- and it shows, sometimes egregiously. Luckily the Somali pirates, apparently found among a refugee community in Minnesota, are tremendous, especially Abdi. He more than holds his own against Tom Hanks, who gives a career performance, especially when the in-command captain finally lets go of all pretense of holding himself together.
Greengrass and editor Christopher Rouse generate real tension, even though I knew the broad outlines of the story. The final act, when the pirates and their hostage are increasingly surrounded by the full might and power of Uncle Sam, is a knockout. Hanks, too, kicks into high gear.
While this film will inevitably be compared to Zero Dark Thirty, not least in that it re-writes President Obama's role entirely out of the story, it doesn't reach that level of verisimilitude. It does, however, provide a thrill-ride from beginning to end with only a few moments that seem Hollywoodized. And because it ends so strong, I recommend it. Those who get queasy with shaky camera footage on the big screen should definitely wait for home video.
In case you still haven't seen it, check out this a capella physics remix of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody".
I'm not only floored by the amount of work that went into arranging and recording the music, I'm also blown away by the amount of work that Tim Blais put into the visual arrangement of the video. [via reader GH]
If you have more time this weekend, watch League of Denial, currently free online. This is the mind-bogglingly good Frontline documentary about what the NFL knew about brain damage caused by playing football and when they know it. Besides raising great questions about the nature of sports and risk, the characters involved are fascinating -- there was a point when multiple neuroscientists were competing with each other for who got Junior Seau's brain.
Let me put it this way: If the documentary was boring and easily-ignored, the NFL wouldn't have pressured ESPN not to air it.
Work Hard and Ask for More Responsibility: A Conversation with Legendary Producer and Executive David V. Picker
David V. Picker is sitting down when I meet him in the lobby of the W Hotel in Westwood. I'm a bit shocked when he stands up. He's a literal giant of the movie industry, not just a metaphorical one. Six-foot-three, although the doctors tell him he may have lost a quarter of an inch with age. That age: 82. But he looks much younger. And when he talks about the movies, he seems younger still. If loving movies this much keeps you young, I'll be a happy man.
Picker's passion for motion pictures started early, possibly decades before his birth, as he recounts in Musts, Maybes and Nevers, his new book about making movies. He was born into a movie dynasty. His grandfather Victor opened a nickelodeon in the Bronx in 1912 -- talk about getting in at the ground floor of an emerging market -- building up a chain of theaters that eventually joined forces with Loews. Picker's father and three uncles all followed into the movie business, and in 1956 David landed at United Artists, working his way up to become head of production and marketing. He was 31.
Many adventures ensued... The Beatles, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, Federico Fellini, Ingmar Bergman, Bob Fosse, François Truffaut, Peter Brook, Bernardo Bertolucci and on and on. Musts, Maybes and Nevers, in my humble opinion, should be required reading for every wannabe studio mogul. Not just for the great stories -- more of them below, in Picker's own words -- but for the attitude Picker takes towards working with creative people. He believed his job was to give the filmmakers space to create. On producing Lenny with director Bob Fosse: "My only job was to make it possible for him to do whatever he wanted to do and be sensitive enough to do it the best it could be done. I was there to make sure he could fulfill his needs and also protect him."
Picker's other great lesson for studio bosses: humility. He was once quoted as saying, "If I had turned down every picture I greenlit, and greenlit every picture I turned down, I’d have the same number of hits and flops." I've looked at his list of projects, and I disagree. But I understand the sentiment. Nobody has a crystal ball in the movie business. Not for creative success and certainly not for financial success.
Picker's accent sounds a lot like his friend, Carl Reiner's, but not so brassy. He talks low, so you have to lean in. And you also lean in because you want to hear what he has to say. What follows is an edited transcript of the interview, starting with Picker's advice for young filmmakers who want to break into the business: (more…)
Tons of references. Here are a few I spotted...
0:07 The Raven (with three eyes)
0:08 Romero zombie movie
0:25 The Lard Lad Donuts coming to life is like Ghostbusters' Stay-Puft Marshmallow man
0:29 Giant cyclops from Harryhausen's 7th Voyage of Sinbad
0:33 Hitchcock sitting next to Mrs. Crabapple, who is attacked by birds just like in his film The Birds
0:39 "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" from The Shining. Ed. note: Don't you mean The Shinning? Careful boy, do you want to get us sued?
0:50 Grounskeeper Willy as Hellboy
0:57 Homer turns into Predator
1:02 Carl turns into Blade
1:12 Mr. Burns and Smithers as characters from Pan's Labyrinth
01:31 A quartet of Phantoms of the Opera
01:40 Cthulu from the H.P. Lovecraft stories and the adaptation that del Toro is still trying to get made
1:45 Edgar Allen Poe (2nd from the left)
1:46 Ray Bradbury?
1:55 Universal Horror monsters (Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolf Man, Mummy, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Bride of Frankenstein, The Mummy)
2:09 The Fly?
2:26 Lisa as Alice from Alice in Wonderland (interesting inclusion)
2:36 More references to Pan's Labyrinth
What did you see?
[via The Guardian]
Once the third-highest paid man in America, writer/director Preston Sturges was the king of the box office from 1939 to 1944 with a series of hit comedic films, starting with The Great McGinty and ending with Hail the Conquering Hero. In between two films in this run, Sullivan's Travels and The Palm Beach Story, Sturges published a list of rules for commercial success in movies:
1. A pretty girl is better than an ugly one.
2. A leg is better than an arm.
3. A bedroom is better than a living room.
4. An arrival is better than a departure.
5. A birth is better than a death.
6. A chase is better than a chat.
7. A dog is better than a landscape.
8. A kitten is better than a dog.
9. A baby is better than a kitten.
10. A kiss is better than a baby.
11. A pratfall is better than anything.
-- as quoted in The Cinema of Preston Sturges: A Critical Study
In the commentary track on the DVD for My Favorite Year, director Richard Benjamin talks about how Sturges' list influenced the film. (more…)
Most of these links come from the @makingthemovie Twitter stream. If you'd like to see them as they come, follow us on Twitter.
No Film School has a very nice roundup of some options available to filmmakers for online distribution. - Of course, I plan to integrate this research into Making the Movie's List of Streaming Movie Outlets.
Gnoodle on Imgur: The Composite James Bond - Click through to see the process of adding all the photos.
Rahul Gandotra: Why on Earth Would I Give Away My Academy Award Shortlisted Film For Free? - The eternal debate between having people see your film or making money on it. Easier to solve when you are talking about short films, because they rarely recoup more than $3,000.
The Dissolve: “Weird Al” Yankovic’s vote for funniest movie ever: Top Secret! - This article moved Top Secret! to the top of my list of must-sees.
Slated.com: How to Qualify for General Solicitation Fundraising - The so-called 'Kickstarter' Law is about to go into effect. How will it work?
YOUR WEEKLY WISDOM:
Next time you watch a foreign-language film on disc, try turning off the subtitles. You will see how much is communicated through performance, lighting, composition and editing.
A documentary short about the movie trailer voice over artist Hal Douglas by filmmaker Casimir Nozkowski.
Casimir has also profiled the film critic Andrew Sarris:
That film screened at Telluride Film Fest in 2011 and at the Museum of Modern Art in 2012. Nozkowski is quite prolific, working on a number of film side projects while making promos for Mad Men and Breaking Bad. If you follow him on Twitter, you'll find some interesting links to experiments on Vine.
You may also know his work from the meme site, cryingwhileeating.com, which he co-created. Yep, this is a compilation of people crying while eating.
One of the best films I've seen all year, Short Term 12, is out in limited release today. The movie tells the story of Grace (Brie Larson), head of the line staff at a group home for teens. It's a sort of half-way house for foster kids and other youths caught up in the various government systems, a purgatory between a home with a family and actual adulthood. Grace herself, similar to her charges, is caught between a troubled past and a bright future with her co-worker/boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.), an understanding soul who, we learn, is also a product of the system.
The excellent script by Destin Cretton (who also provides the film's sensitive direction), gives each and every character splendidly revealing moments, especially the teen characters, who you so rarely see portrayed with such believability on screen.
The authenticity of the characters' stories is a deliberate product of Cretton's research. He not only interviewed people who work at such homes -- gathering the hilarious true story that opens the film -- but he had personal experience working at a short term facility just out of college.
I got a chance to sit down with Cretton, Larson, Gallagher and some of the rest of the cast to find out how they crafted such a funny, dramatic and moving film in just a brief 20-day shoot. "You packed a lot into those days," says Rami Malek, who plays the new staff member Nate. "We didn't have a minute to spare, really," adds Brie Larson, "It was a 'we make the day, or we don't get the scene' sort of situation. I've been on many independents, and that's something that I'm always aware of, because the producers make you very aware of it. And you feel it. And what's so strange, I think that Short Term had probably the tightest budget of anything I've worked on, and I never ever once felt I was rushed, or told that there was fear that we weren't going to make it. In reaction to that, we were two days ahead of schedule for pretty much the whole shoot. And then we used those two days we were ahead to spend more time on things we felt like needed more time."
John Gallagher, Jr. talked about how Cretton created a caring atmosphere on set. "It all starts with the way he wrote it, the energy he brought to the set and the people he surrounded himself with, from the caterers to the sound guys to Brett [Pawlak], who shot it. He's very careful about who he invites into the family, because he does treat it very much like a family."
"I was very clear to the department heads about a number of things," says Cretton. "One is just being sensitive to the fact that we are telling a story about some pretty heavy issues." Not only did he want the crew to be respectful because there were kids on sets, these were kids that were working themselves into very emotional places. "I didn't even want like 'construction worker talk' of like what went on on the weekend, because I didn't want somebody feeling uncomfortable because of something stupid somebody said." Likewise, it was important the actors be able to come up for air from time to time. "Because we are doing such heavy scenes, it is very important when you come out of those scenes to be able to laugh and joke."
Larson talked about being shaken by a particular scene involving (fake) blood. "That scene, because of my own personal phobia, really shook me up. I left in kind of a weird state and felt really upset when I got home. Asher [Goldstein], one of the producers, actually called me when I got home to make sure I got home safe, because he was concerned about me driving, because I wasn't sort of 'there' after that."
Gallagher praised Cretton's even-keeled demeanor. "He's always there. He's very available. He didn't once lose his cool on set. He was very level, measured, just kinda unflappable. The funny thing is now we're doing these interviews, he was like, 'I don't know if I'm a good director. I don't know what I'm doing.' The whole time I was there, I just thought, man this guy so knows what he's doing. I think that's why the movie has such an ease to it. It all starts with him."
Cretton credited his d.p., frequent collaborator Brett Pawlak, as a 'third actor' in a scene, responding and reacting spontaneously to the performances of the actors. Kaitlyn Dever, 16, who plays the troubled, budding artist Jayden, explained: "A lot of the times, the camera would sort of just follow where we were going and that was cool because that was a thing that Destin wanted. If I felt my character would walk and go somewhere in a scene, then the camera would follow.
"It lended to the realism of it," chimes in Keith Stanfield, who is a revelation as Marcus, the taciturn youth who is about to 'age out' of the home, "A lot of people said it looks like a documentary. The level of freedom we were allowed to have, it was pretty much like, 'Just take it and run with it.' I think Destin was looking for really true and raw emotion. He didn't have a predisposition on how people would react to certain things, because emotions are so sporadic. I think he understood that, so he just kind of winged it and let it go. He didn't really contrive it in any way."
"He does things in a very collaborative way," says Gallagher. "It's very organic. He has a very subtle way of laying a lot of the groundwork for you, before you even know it."
There were no rehearsals, but Cretton did give his two leads a little help in forming their characters over a dinner a few nights before the shoot. Larson explains: "Destin dropped an envelope off on John's doorstep before he met me for dinner. And it said to open when we got to the restaurant. So we opened it. It had a sweet little note from Destin, wishing us well and hoping that this helped. And it ended up being another little envelope with little conversation-starters, little pieces of paper with different little questions and things. And any time the conversation would hit a natural lull, we'd just go, 'Let's see what else we have.'
"The questions were great. They were a lot of things I just hadn't really thought about. They were things from, 'What's your happiest childhood memory?' to 'What are your hopes and fears of being a parent?' 'What do you think that Grace and Mason's first date was like?' And those questions then lead us to discuss other things, even things like income. We started doing the math of how much we would make hourly, what kind of hours we were working and what that meant for us financially and living together. It was probably the reason why we lived together was due to financial circumstances. You kind of start piecing this whole mythology together, and by the time the dinner was over, we had a lot figured out."
"I think the best way for humans to be creative is when they feel really safe with each other," says Cretton. "That aesthetic was the result of a practical decision to make all of our choices to try to create the best environment for getting performances out of the actors."
The film is open today in NY and LA. It opens nationwide August 30.
Beyond a simple metaphor for the 'haves' and 'have-nots,' Elysium, written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, is more specifically about access to health care. In a dystopian future, the rich hover above the earth in a pentagram, their lives extended by med-bays that can remove cancer or even perform reconstructive surgery. Meanwhile, the rest of humanity lives below on a polluted earth, working for slave wages in hopes of saving enough to buy a ticket on a junk space ship that will attempt to breach Elysium and use the medbays before they are caught and exported.
We already knew from Blomkamp's previous feature District 9, he has a rich and detailed imagination when it comes to futuristic technologies and also political commentary. For example, Jodie Foster plays Elysium's Defense Minister (with a distractingly weird accent) who, like any good villain from the military-industrial complex, seeks to wrench power from the wishy-washy politicians. And then there are the mercenaries (Sharlto Copley, also with a weird accent) whom, once she has released, cannot be controlled.
Clear History feels like a super-sized episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, right down to the whimsical classical music cues by Ludovic Bource. As a fan of Curb, this is not a bad thing. In additional to his late-season sidekick J.B. Smoove, we also get some big names playing against David. The good: Jon Hamm, Eva Mendes, Kate Hudson, Michael Keaton, Danny McBride, Liev Schrieber. The meh: Amy Ryan, Bill Hader, Paul Scheer, Philip Baker Hall. Not that they were bad, just that the script, by Larry David & Alec Berg & David Mandel & Jeff Schaffer didn't give them much to do.
In true Larry David style, there are some good callback jokes: a painting of a shopping cart, Ayn Rand references, who should back up first on narrow country roads. The one callback that the film relies upon, unfortunately, involves oral sex and the band Chicago, and is depressingly retrograde in its view of female sexuality. The editing, by Curb's Steven Rasch, does a good job of shaping the improvisatory scenes for comedy. The one odd decision, which may not have been Rasch's, but David's or director Greg Mottola's, was to have a scene about Jon Hamm's character talking about cancer intercut with a scene of Larry David's character. The transitions made the scene feel like it was a fantasy of David's character, but we later learn it wasn't. The cinematography, by Jim Denault, is undistinguished and occasionally blown out in the highlights, making me think the film was shot fast and cheap. Production designer Sarah Knowles deserves kudos for the funny "Howard" cars which become ubiquitous in the story.
Overall, Clear History is not worth subscribing to HBO for specifically, but an entertaining way to pass the time between seasons of Curb. Another pass or two on the script and shot with more artistry, perhaps also not casting David, this would have made a good theatrical film. I would love to see more of Larry David's writing applied to a long-form template like this.