Appropriate for the week when the U.S. sets clocks back, gaining an extra hour, I saw the latest film from writer/director Richard Curtis, About Time. I am conflicted about this film, and an extra hour won't solve the issue. On one hand, it is a genuinely charming and moving meditation on the joys of everyday life and acceptance of loss. On the other, it suffers from gaping logic flaws, even by the brain-bending expectations for a time travel film.
Most frustratingly, many of these flaws could have been easily fixed in post by recording about thirty seconds of additional voiceover explaining some of the ground rules of the central character's ability to return to an earlier point in his life (over and over, like, say Groundhog Day, a movie that already shows how to do this right).
For fans of Curtis' other films (Love Actually especially), there is much to enjoy here. Domnhall Gleeson is a winning lead and Rachel McAdams is winsome as ever. While the film is full of romance, it is also a father-son story at heart, something the marketing has scrupulously avoided. So men, bring your hankies too.
Now, about those logic flaws... (spoilers ahead). (more…)
Article from a talented filmmaker from across the pond: Louis Chan... -JO
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Having recently graduated and with little experience in the industry, it was always going to be difficult to find professional actors for the roles in my work. Knowing this, I wrote a short called "Pastiche" with certain local characters in mind that I knew from the area in which the story is to take place, Kensal Rise (North West London). The main antagonist, Yardie Mason, could easily come off as a clichéd over-the-top gangster, so it was essential to find the right non-actor who could give the character the depth I imagined.
Prior to beginning the script, I was at a friend’s birthday party having a conversation with a guy called TK, when a bloke called Mark walked into the room demanding to know who had stolen his joint. Mark is in his early fifties, about six-foot-three, with an imposing frame and long dreadlocks. I was immediately reminded of a greying Predator. Straight away, I knew I had someone who had the externals. Everyone looked sheepishly around; especially TK. Mark snatched the joint out of TK’s hand and started berating him for being a ‘slag’ and a ‘teef’ (thief) in yardie. TK responded with equally funny put-downs about Mark’s clothes and the whole scene just began to get increasingly more hilarious. At the time, I was completely unaware that they were good friends and had been acting like this with each other since they were children. I remember thinking: if ever I could get those two in a room together and film them without their knowing, I would have possibly one of the funniest sketch shows going.
About six months later, I managed to get in contact with Mark and have a sit down with him and TK. Although neither had ever acted, they were familiar with the context of the film and even know people whom the characters I had written reminded them of. Naturally, Mark and TK were initially skeptical they would be able to learn the lines and deliver them credibly. What I tried to explain was that these were characters that most probably had an upbringing quite similar to their own -- a different choice here or there could have resulted in their going the other way. One of the biggest themes of "Pastiche" is of hybridity in London and how cultures are increasingly overlapping. This was something that interested Mark and allowed us to create a character that -- whilst having a thick cockney accent -- would often drift into Patois/Yardie dialect without noticing. This is something we built on during rehearsals and when shooting his scene. It was crucial to the delivery that we had a project that the actor not only enjoyed but also believed in.
The performances of my local non-actors totally exceeded my expectations. Now, I can't imagine having done the film any other way. All in all, if you are looking to make a no-budget film, I highly recommend you look for people who are local to the area and can personally relate to what your film is about. "Pastiche" is about social change in a particular area and this is something that locals who have lived there for years, are always going to feel quite passionately about. When you combine that with someone who has the physical presence and a natural ability for comedy, you’ve definitely got something cinematic to work with.
Louis Chan is a 23-year-old London-born filmmaker who recently completed his first short film "Pastiche". (Watch it on YouTube.) He has just completed work on his second short film "Maestra" and is in the process of setting up his own production company, FreshLook Films. You can find out more about Louis and his films on Twitter and YouTube.
And now, two reviews of movies based on memoirs with
Bandersnatch Cumberbund Benedict Cumberbatch in their casts and numbers in their titles.
Based on the memoir of Solomon Northup, a free black musician and farmer in upstate New York, this Steve McQueen-directed (Hunger, Shame film depicts how Northup was forcibly kidnapped and sold into slavery. Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) witnesses and experiences many atrocities before he is finally restored to freedom and his family. This story, along with Uncle Tom's Cabin, is one of the reasons Northerners were willing to fight to end the barbaric institution.
The script, by John Ridley (Red Tails), makes some alterations to Northup's best seller. One of the best comes early on, when instead of seeing Northup get sick on a boat, the film dramatizes why Northup doesn't fight back against his captors. Later, when he has a chance to run away, he runs into a lynching, providing another clear point for modern audiences who may not understand why Northup doesn't risk escape more often over the twelve brutal years.
Ejiofor is one of the most charismatic actors working today and I defy anyone not to feel the palpable relief and confusion in the scene of his reunion with his family. McQueen's unshakeable collaborator Michael Fassbender is also back, as the tyrannical slave owner Edwin Epps. The filmmakers darkly insinuate that the sadism of slavery holds, for Epps, a sexual charge.
Fassbender, apparently terrible as a Texan in The Counsellor, manages okay with the Southern accent (notoriously tricky for Brit thesps). Cumberbatch, however, as Baptist preacher and slave owner William Ford, does not. He is a tremendous talent (see below), but miscast here.
Also miscast are Tarran Killam and Scoot McNairy as the hustlers who lure Northup to Washington. They seem to have walked out of a whimsical Terry Gilliam film. I did not care for the performance of Adepero Oduye, who plays Eliza, a fellow slave who is sold away from her children. Her story is dramatic, but I never believed the emotional truth behind her wordy dialogue. Contrariwise, the other great female role in the film, Patsey, is a revelation as played by Lupita Nyong'o -- utterly convincing, supremely heartbreaking. From the summaries I've read of the book, I believe much of her story has been added by the filmmakers, to great effect. It provides the movie's most harrowing scenes, where Solomon himself is put into the position of a slaveowner. The moral stain of slavery debases both whites and blacks alike.
McQueen's directing is far more conventional than his previous films, and the fractured timeline editing, which is (sort of) abandoned does nothing to enhance an inherently terrifying and horrific tale. Likewise, Hans Zimmer's score full of Hollywood-movie clichés is a disservice to such a profound film.
I know some folks find "horse race" discussions distasteful, but if you care for my opinion, I would not say, as some have said, 12 Years A Slave is a lock to win Best Picture. It is an excellent film, an important film, and would be a deserving winner. I think McQueen has better films yet to come, and I think the "American Holocaust" of slavery is only just beginning to be explored on film. This movie points the way.
The general public may not know that "The Fourth Estate" is a nickname for the journalists that hold the government to account. A title with "Assange" or "Wikileaks" would've given this movie a better shot commercially.
But no matter. The movie fails itself, too often pausing to let Julian Assange spill more of his weird backstory, too often letting the main character -- Wikileaks' #2 man, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, upon whose book the story is based -- off too lightly for his actions.
I kept wishing for the Aaron Sorkin Social Network version of the film: a room full of characters who are smarter than you, trading witty barbs, digging themselves deeper into a moral abyss. Josh Singer's script has the cool idea of visualizing Wikileaks itself as a giant nether-space filled with identical computer terminals. Sadly, as directed by Bill Condon (whose Kinsey remains one of the most under-rated films of the last decade), the metaphor never reaches its full visual potential. The overall art direction, likewise, seems to suggest that all computer people hang out at raves with lots of flashing lights and random images projected on walls. By the third such party, I began to feel monotony in the lives of these characters, who most definitely were not doing monotonous things.
In the film's weakest subplot, Laura Linney and Stanley Tucci phone in their performances as State Department functionaries who must deal with the fallout of the release of the diplomatic cables. The tense scene of a source trying to escape Libya shows there was a better story here to be mined.
Daniel Brühl, as Berg, is an energy-suck. The reason to see the film is Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as Julian Assange, played as a paranoid Asberger's revolutionary. At the end of the film, he is allowed to re-enact an interview of Assange's that criticizes the film we've just watched. Closeup, directly to lens, no camera movement. It's spellbinding.
If you can look past the film's self-important messaging, there really is a good point made about how journalism will never be the same, post-Wikileaks. Some news outlets, like the Washington Post, did not learn the lesson about creating secure channels for sources to make contact. After NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden tried them and found them wanting, he ended up collaborating with... guess who? It is no accident that the hero journalists in The Fifth Estate are the ones who work for The Guardian.
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.
Writer Julian Fellowes' (Downton Abbey, Gosford Park) and producer Ileen Maisel's attempt to make a cinematic version of Shakespeare's play that is both "traditional" and "accessible" ends up succeeding on neither account, mostly because of the strange decision to re-write 20% of Shakespeare's words. While the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli-directed version is starting show its age, it still exceeds this new version in acting, intelligence, staging and -- most of all, music. Teen audiences who won't know better might still prefer the 1996 Baz Luhrman modernized setting, which remains an original and dynamic spectacle.
If you, like me, are an abiding fan of The Bard, you may want to read my nerdier review at Shakespeare Geek, which goes into some detail about what the filmmakers changed (and should've changed) from the original text.
No cinematic version of the play to date has used much more than a third of Shakespeare's script, so there is plenty of fresh material for a film to use. Sadly, this film does not take advantage of this, and its new scenes -- a joust between knights of the houses of Montague and Capulet, a priest saving the life of a small boy -- fail to add to the story of star-crossed lovers.
The lovers are played by Douglas Booth, whom I liked, and Oscar-nominee Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), who did a better job with the Coen Brothers' tasty dialogue than Julian Fellowes' pastiche of Shakespeare's. Italian director Carlo Carlei has a good eye for costume and set design but the romance paperpack lighting and treacle score make this seem more like a perfume commercial than a serious tragedy. Likewise, the headlong rush of the film's pace means the lovers hardly have time to fall in love before making their dateless bargains with engrossing death.
However, if my cynical LA press screening audience is any guide, this story, which Shakespeare himself adapted from one or more continental novellas, still has the power to wring tears. I fear this version will supplant the Zeffirelli and Luhrmann versions in schools, despite the re-write. If it does, it will be a far greater tragedy than this film's soggy conception of doomed love.
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…)
Gravity is the force that keeps objects rotating around the Earth and sometimes pulls them back down. Unfortunately, the hype over this movie is not subject to it. Go in with normal expectations, and I expect you will enjoy it. My own stratospheric hopes never reached escape velocity.
Yes, Gravity is a tremendous piece of filmmaking. It follows the trials and tribulations of three American astronauts (Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Paul Sharma) when a spacewalk to install new software on the Hubble telescope goes awry. Beyond director Alfonso Cuarón's trademark showy long takes, the film is a triumph of specific visual detail. Framestore, the visual effects company largely responsible for Cuarón's previous Children of Men, working with production designer Andy Nicholson, creates a seamless, utterly convincing world of jetpack space suits, capsules, international space stations, helmet reflections and zero-G physics.
The astronaut characters are likewise convincing, if under-developed. The script, by Alfonso Cuarón and his son, Jonás, conveys about as much character as the man-against-the-elements story allows, but that leaves the emotional depths of the characters mostly an airless void. Clooney plays against playing against type as a charming ladies man. Bullock is a specialist in medical imagery who somehow wangled a rocket ride despite flunking at least one part of her astronaut training. She spends so much of the movie reacting as a normal person would -- that is, hysterically -- that I wanted to reach out at the 3D space and smack her. Don't you realize you need to pull yourself together already, Mission Specialist Ryan? This movie is only 90 minutes long.
Should the movie be seen in 3D? Emphatically, yes. Based on the IMAX 3D presentation I saw, I can hardly imagine not seeing it in 3D. The virtues of this film are visual and auditory, and the IMAX presentation was a spectacle in the best sense, even if Universal Citywalk's AMC Theater could probably stand to crank up their bulbs a few footlamberts. (It is important for 3D projection to be extra bright to compensate for light lost in the glasses.) Even if you insist 3D must be used for 'debris flying at your face' moments, this movie will please you. I flinched four times in one short scene. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice... the fool me gets fooled twice again.
But back to the story... Read more (spoilers)...
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]