Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Telluride Film Festival

The famously secretive Colorado film festival announced its line-up just as the festival is set to start:

All is Lost (US)- directed by J.C. Chandor
Before the Winter Chill (France)- Philippe Claudel
Bethlehem (Israel)- directed by Yuval Adler
Blue is the Warmest Color (France)- directed by Adbellatif Kechiche
Burning Bush (Czech Republic)- directed by Agnieszka Holland
Death Row: Blaine Milam + Robert Fratta (US)- directed by Werner Herzog
Fifi Howls From Happiness (US)- directed by Mitra Farahani
The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden (US)- directed by Dan Geller & Dayna Goldfine
Gloria (Chilé)- directed by Sebastián Lelio
Gravity (US)- directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Ida (Poland)- directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
Inside Llewyn Davis (US)- directed by Joel & Ethan Coen
The Invisible Woman (UK)- directed by Ralph Fiennes
Labor Day (US)- directed by Jason Reitman
The Lunchbox (India)- directed by Ritesh Batra
La Maison de la Radio (France)- directed by Nicolas Philibert
Manuscripts Don't Burn (Iran)- directed by Mohammad Rasoulof
The Missing Picture (France)- directed by Rithy Panh
Nebraska (US)- directed by Alexander Payne
Palo Alto (US)- directed by Gia Coppola
The Past (France)- directed by Asghar Fahardi
Slow Food Story (Italy)- directed by Stefano Sardo
Starred Up (UK)- directed by David Mackenzie
Tim's Vermeer (US)- directed by Teller
Tracks (UK)- directed by John Curran
Under the Skin (UK)- directed by Jonathon Glazer
The Unknown Known (US)- directed by Errol Morris

Lee Daniels' The Butler

Lee Daniels' The Butler tells the story of the an African American domestic, played by Forest Whitaker who served in the White House from Eisenhower to Reagan.  Inspired by the true life of Eugene Allen, the film tackles the historic tapestry of the Civil Rights Movement as seen through the eyes of a man who laid witness, quietly and mostly invisibly, to all the behind the scenes events and turmoil.  Just the simple premise is evocative enough to send chills or squirmy enough to induce fear of what sort of monster could be unleashed in the wrong hands-- the film is a bit of both, a two headed dragon of the like that only such a fascinating and contentious director like Lee Daniels, he of Precious: Based on Novel "Push" by Sapphire and, more recently, The Paperboy, could create.  Thankfully his latest doesn't feature any water sports.

The Butler generated controversy earlier this summer over the copyright/publicity stunt over it's title-- a 1916 WB silent short film named "The Butler" is registered with the MPAA, which in turn resulted in the hasty re-titling to Lee Daniels' The Butler.  Yet if you look at the resume of Mr. Daniels, his latest seems the least likely (at least on paper) to demand the authorial moniker. It's square and polished and finessed with the gilded veneer that marks the sophisticated look of an awards hopeful, with the backing Harvey Weinstein, ever more so.  However, the horny, fussy bearings that mark all Lee Daniels joints pop up and down The Butler like a candy-colored landing strip.  If there one takeaway from each of films, it may be why bother emphasizing a point when you can't pound it into your central nervous system.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Casting Society of America Nominees

Last month, AMPAS created a new branch of the Academy for casting directors, asking the question as to whether a new category should perhaps be enlisted to the Oscars.  As of now, the Casting Society of America (and the niche Robert Altman Award at the Independent Spirit Awards) stands as the highest honor for one of the unsung heroes of filmmaking.  Here are the nominees:

Oz: The Great & Powerful- John Papsidera
Pain & Gain- Denise Chamain, Lori Wyman, Ania Kamieniecki-O'Hare
Silver Linings Playbook- Mary Vernieu, Lindsay Graham, Diane Heery
Ted- Sheila Jaffe, Angela Perri
The Watch- Alyssa Weisberg, Shay Bentley Griffin, Yesi Ramirez, Karina Walters

Life of Pi

Argo- Lora Kennedy
Life of Pi- Avy Kaufman
Lincoln- Avy Kaufman, Erica Arvold, Pat Moran
Les Misérables- Nina Gold
Zero Dark Thirty- Mark Bennett, Richard Hicks, Seher Latif

Hitchcock- Terri Taylor, John McAlary
Moonrise Kingdom- Douglas Aibel, Henry Russell Bergstein
Pitch Perfect- Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee, Tracy Kilpatrick
Seven Psychopaths- Sarah Halley Finn, Tamara Hunter
To Rome With Love- Patricia DiCerto, Beatrice Kruger

Magic Mike

The Company You Keep- Avy Kaufman
Lawless- Francine Maisler
Looper- Mary Vernieu, Lindsay Graham, Lisa Mae Fincannon, Craig Fincannon
Magic Mike- Carmen Cuba, Wittney Hutton
Mud- Francine Maisler, Diana Guthrie
The Place Beyond the Pines- Cindy Tolan, Adam Caldwell

Celeste & Jesse Forever- Angela Demo
Compliance- Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee
Frances Ha- Douglas Aibel, Henry Russell Bergstein
The Sessions- Ronnie Yeskel
Smashed- Avy Kaufman, Kim Coleman

Brave- Kevin Reher, Natalie Lyon
Epic- Christian Kaplan
Frankenweenie- Ronna Kress, Jennifer Rubin
Ice Age: Continental Drift- Christian Kaplan
Wreck-It-Ralph- Jamie Sparer Roberts

In a World...

In a world of superhero antics, bombastic pyrotechnics and brooding self-serious dithering that is this summer movie season, one woman strives to make her mark in the cinematic sea of alpha male dominance.  It will require strength.  It will require drive.  For in a world full of nay-saying chauvinism, there is nothing but peril.  And yet, somehow, perhaps inexplicably, In a World..., the disarming, deceptively simple and altogether winning new comedy written, directed and starring Lake Bell manages to find a wealth of wit and poise in her light feminist behind-the-scenes Hollywood satire revolving an untapped sect of the industry-- that of voice over artists.  The very nature of voice acting requires a large degree of anonymity, but the voices are a thing of legend because of their ubiquity-- the guys (and girls) who voice the movie trailers and commercials.  Doesn't it always feel like it's the same voice all the time anyway?  It turns out that behind the scenes industry is pretty cutthroat, a highly competitive world onto itself, one in which Bell, the director, explains right off the top of her new film, filling in the gap between the why and the who before letting her lightly stewed confection of a film do the talking for itself.

Bell, an actress who for years has graced many a film and television show as second fiddle, best friend and caricatured harridan (she played Alec Baldwin's shrewish younger wife in the Meryl Streep comedy It's Complicated for instance), exhibits an uncanny ear for dialogue.  Both natural and not, she scripts her debut In a World... with a charming ping towards the screwball, but reveals quiet and graceful layers of depth and perhaps even a bit of power within her sharply constructed dialogue.  And as her film-- on face value a slickly quirky independent comedy-- focuses on a microcosm of the industry, it unearths caustic questions and presents difficult to mine themes with ease and confidence.

Monday, August 19, 2013

New York Film Festival Line-Up

The 51st New York Film Festival has announced its official line-up.  Captain Phillips will open the festival, while The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will be the centerpiece gala and Her will close the prestigious film festival.

Captain Phillips (US)- Tom Hanks stars as in Paul Greengrass' latest intrigue-a-real life about the hijacking of of a US cargo ship by Somali pirates.  One of Sony's high button Oscar contenders.

About Time
About Time (UK)- Domhall Gleeson (Anna Karenina) does the time warp in Richard Curtis' latest romantic fantasy co-starring Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy.
Abuse of Weakness (France)- Catherine Breillat, director of Romance and Fat Girl, introduces her latest provocation starring Isabelle Huppert.
Alan Partridge (UK)- Declan Lowney's comedy starring Steve Coogan.
All is Lost (US)- J.C. Chandor's Margin Call follow-up is the one-man survival drama starring Robert Redford, a role that's had major awards talk since debuting in Cannes.
American Promise (US)- Docuementary by Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson that follows two African American families.
At Berkeley (US)- Frederick Wiseman's documentary is a study of the famed University of Berekely.
Bastards (France)- Claire Denis' contemporary film noir makes it's North American premiere after debuting at Cannes this past May.
Blue is the Warmest Color (France)- The controversial Cannes Palme D'or winner from director Abdellatif Kechiche will continue to polarize in it's hopes of gaining awards traction.
Burning Bush (Czech Republic)- Czech mini-series from Europa Europa director Agnieszka Holland.
Child of God (US)- James Franco's Cormac McCarthy adaptation comes to NYFF after famously premiering at Cannes.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Locarno Film Festival Winners

GRAND JURY PRIZE: Historia de la Meva Mort (Story of My Death)- directed by Albert Serra (Spain/France)

JURY PRIZE: E Agora? Lembra-Me (What Now? Remind Me)- directed by Joaquim Pinto (Portugal)

BEST DIRECTOR: Sang-soo Hong, Our Sunhi (South Korea)- Hong previously directed the In Another Country, which featured Isabelle Huppert at premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

BEST ACTOR: Fernando Bacilio, El Mudo (Peru/Spain/France)

BEST ACTRESS: Brie Larson, Short Term 12 (US)

Short Term 12- directed by Destin Cretton
Tableau Noir- directed by Yves Yersin (Switzerland)

Short Term 12 opens next week in limited release stateside and is garnering nice words, especially for leading actress Larson, who currently in also in cinemas in The Spectacular Now and has been coming into her own in recent years with performances in Rampart, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, 21 Jump Street and TV's The United States of Tara.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Four years ago, director Neill Blomkamp surprised the cynical-minded spectrum of summer escapism with the gripping and grandly entertaining South African import District 9.  Blomkamp cleverly invented a lithe, concise allegory about his native's Apartheid shaped around a crisp alien science fiction movie.  In retrospect, it's not so much that the film was necessarily anything stronger than a solid grade-B science fiction diversion, but the fickle nature of expectation is a funny beast in itself in selling mass produced material.   District 9 felt like a breath of fresh air and for it's surprise attack on numb summer moviegoers proved an underdog worthy of rooting for-- especially considering the low budget out-of-nowhere film looked immaculately sharper with a crystallized narrative of the likes Hollywood can't seem to make too often anymore.  The film even managed to earn four Academy Award nominations that year, including one for Best Picture, rare, huzzah feat for a genre science fiction film and culmination of it's surprise, underdog status.

Now we arrive at Elysium, and the nature of the game for Blomkamp is a bit different.  Again the sometimes fickle game of expectation must rear its unforgiving head.  The surprise attack of District 9 dissolved now that Blomkamp is invited to play with major studio money and all that that encompasses, including movie stars.  It feels wrong from the start, or even at all, to spit upon Elysium if nothing more for the fact that it's a big studio-approved science fiction film not at all based upon a superhero or a toy.  It also is a high-minded, well-intentioned, socially conscious movie filled with ideas-- perhaps too many ideas and not enough cohesively developed, but ideas nonetheless.  In fairness, Elysium even in its messy, shaggy, unfiltered state is a gamble that Hollywood should be willing to bet on a lot more than it actually does and I will gladly take one messy Elysium any day over thirty Iron Man 3s.  That being said, Elysium doesn't quite work.

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

There's a swirling beauty in the muted color palette in the period outlaw love story Ain't Them Bodies Saints.  The camera flows and swirls, the meticulous compositions are nearly divinely filmed and authentically observed.  If there's thing major takeaway from the film that was a hit at this years Sundance Film Festival-- where it garnered a seemingly much deserved cinematography prize-- and I do believe there is just one, it's in the discovery and hopefulness of a great find in director David Lowery.  He stages his tale-- one steeped partially in cinematic homage but also carved out of legend-- with such an assurance, a confidence, a tender but sharply honed-in verve, one in such that stretches of the film merely coast on its effervescent dream-like potential.  The work of Terrence Malick reads a huge influence aesthetically, but the great Robert Altman films McCabe and Mr. Miller and Thieves Like Us and perhaps, most influentially, Bonnie & Clyde figure in as clear pieces of the framework of this tale of doomed love in the Texas Hill Country in the 1970s.

Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) are the young rebels, without much cause and it's both a strength and weakness of the film that their crimes, either of passion or ennui, are left vague and ambiguous.  We start with a shoot out in an old farmhouse.  An old-school outlaw versus the police showdown; Ruth, whose just found out she's about to be a mother, has just fired and perhaps shot a police officer; one of their criminal cronies may be dead.  It ends peacefully with a promise from Bob to always return to Ruth and their unborn child as the two are cuffed and are taken from their house; the flame of their passion ignites the screen in this seemingly iconic little sequence that teases a lifetime of texture, danger and lived-in romantic desire.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Updates Coming

Lots of (hopefully) exciting content is on the way!  Musings and Stuff is coming back with a non-threatening vengeance after an unexpected break.  Excitement underway:

Meryl vs. Oprah?

  • Oscar season beginning-- what Telluride, Toronto and Venice coming soon, we continue onward to another awards season.  Today's unexpected announcement: Meryl Streep going Supporting for her role in August: Osage County.  Will Streep go up against Oprah in Lee Daniels' The Butler?  Anyone else hoping Uma Thurman gets awards traction for Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac for an encore of Oprah/Uma Oscar jokes....
  • Reviews-- lots coming up including: The Way, Way Back, We're the Millers, Fill the Void, Elysium and Ain't Them Bodies Saints.
  • and more...
Celebrate the wonder and brutality of the cinema with Musings and Stuff...

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Television Critics Association Awards

The winners of the 28th Annual Television Critics Association Awards, which represents upwards of 220 television journalists for print and the web, have been announced.

OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES: (tie) The Big Bang Theory (CBS); Parks & Recreation (NBC)
BEST NEWS/INFORMATION SHOW: Central Park Five- Ken Burns (PBS)

Around the Inter-Web

Awards Daily: A plea to support good movies this weekend, as opposed to most weekends.
Buzzfeed: Woody Allen's biggest hits, unadjusted and memed-- where will Blue Jasmine land?
Cinema Blend: The current state of whatsits on the "Batman vs. Superman." Could Ryan Gosling be the latest Caped Crusader?  For those you care, Armie Hammer doesn't want it...
Deadline:  "Say hello to my little...wizard." Harry Potter helmer Peter Yates might be in the running to direct a remake of Scarface...
Empire: Billy Bob Thornton cast in Fargo, television show based on the movie.  Speaking of Thornton, the trailer has dropped for the long-gestating Jayne Mansfield's Car, which he stars in and directed.
First Showing: Miles Teller, currently shining in The Spectacular Now, as Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four reboot?
Flavorwire: Features top ten lists of all-time favorite movies from the likes of Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan...and Lena Dunham.
Hollywood Reporter: Ben Stiller's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will be the centerpiece gala at this years 51st New York Film Festival. Captain Phillips will open.
In Contention: Rates the Oscars hosts of the last decade-- where will Ellen DeGeneres' second stab fall?
MovieWeb: Christopher Nolan's latest top-secret science fiction film, Interstellar will feature every actor in Hollywood when all is told.
mxdwnmovies:  Three more Avatars on the way, and to be shot simultaneously-- yay or nay?  And will this become the new studio norm for franchise filmmaking.
The New York Times: "Stop Blamming Jaws"-- an excellent dissertation on why Hollywood's 1st blockbuster shouldn't be finger-pointed to the tentpole-y ways that motivate the current Hollywood powers that be.
The Canyons starring Lindsay Lohan
 Thompson on Hollywood: A defense of the much-maligned Lindsay Lohan film The Canyons (which opened in NY this weekend and is also available on VOD and iTunes.)  Can the film live down that infamous New York Times article?

But Will She Sing "We Saw Your Boobs?"

Hopefully the Jaws theme didn't play her off
Ellen DeGeneres will return as master of ceremonies for the 86th Academy Awards, in an announcement that was thankfully not nearly as drawn out is it usually is.  She will offer a warm, safe cuddliness following the nasty aftertaste that followed Seth McFarlane's divisive turn this past year, which all in all isn't such a bad thing after all.  This marks her second gig taking on the most thankless job in show business-- her first was in 2007, the year The Departed won the top prize.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Spectacular Now

It might take a few beats to soak up what an accomplishment the new indie film The Spectacular Now really is.  Rooted in the familiar set up of lost teenagers coming of age, it tells its story gingerly but simply.  It courses a well-trodden path, and nearly in refusing to neither subvert nor flair with stylistic excess, the film feels real, delicate and graceful.  There's nothing flashy about The Spectacular Now, which was directed by James Ponstoldt (who made the twelve steps totem Smashed last year) and written by the (500) Days of Summer screenwriting team Scott Neustradter and Michael H. Weber.  Yet it's one of the most perceptive and emotionally intelligent film about teenagers to come around in quite a while.  Its seeming conventionality wears off sometime after viewing (at least it did for me) and settles into something a bit deeper-- a real world sense discovery of the great unknown that everyone faces as they make their journey into adulthood.

Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) could be read as a cautionary tale.  A product of troubled marriage, whose well-intentioned but most absent single mother is busy providing away, he's a strong drinker and reckless youth seemingly on a road to nowhere.  Sutter touts his living in the moment like a personal mantra, but it's really more of a defense mechanism-- There's been countless after school specials and very-special-episodes of adolescents just like him, but the film is more potent and assured to make his case a prolonged PSA of angst gone wild teenagers.  Yet the film takes a different and more complicated approach, as Sutter, a high school senior, is also sharp as a tick with a confident sheen wrapped around nerdy and vulnerable interior; he's lost but he's fooled himself into a false sense of enlightenment.  Teller, in a revelatory performance, he strikes as a younger Robert Downey, Jr.-- with his motor-mouthed volcano of wit seemingly ready to pop and explode with the sense of real danger.

Blue Jasmine

The nerve, the twitch that hit the zeitgeist in recent years, that tinge of uproar sparked by the brief Occupy movement, inspired by the corrupt antics of those richer-than-sin is but the blip of the surface that's keenly and acutely observed in Woody Allen's latest-- a rich and potent character study of one woman's riches to rags saga.  It's also inspired the most provocative and surprising drama the filmmaker has tackled in years, decades even, as if Allen was hit by a primal nerve, one in which he sought to create a crowd-pleasing morality fable centered around a once wealthy woman, not just on the verge of a nervous breakdown, by in the full-on throes of one.  Blue Jasmine, a sparkling melodrama, seems to document a sudden and welcome shift, not to mention a glimmer of topicality for the illustrious auteur.  For decades, Allen has held a gilded light on the neurotic and prickly dwellers on the upper echelons of society, at first as noted observer, than as insider-- in Blue Jasmine, Allen retreats and through the prism of a most absorbent character study, he has perhaps given the proletarians the feel good movie of the year.

Jasmine French (Cate Blanchett) is a modern day royal, one of the many superbly coiffed, well spoken members of high society, or she was, now she's tapped out due to the crafty bookkeeping by her high yields husband Hal (Alec Baldwin), and stuck in an eternal existential state of why me.  With no skill set to speak of, the loss of the societal camaraderie she once knew and recent bouts of mania, Jasmine has little choice but to journey west to San Francisco and mooch off her working class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) with little else but her own snobbish haughtiness to sate her.  Something is amiss right from the start of the film, as Jasmine, a woman so desperate to maintain authoritative civility,  appears lost on the doorsteps of her sister's apartment in one of the very first scenes, as if she's stuck in a nightmare waiting to wake up back at her summer home in Southampton where she can play the consummate hostess, the only role that ever naturally suited her.
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