Film & TV News: January 27

News

  • Sundance 2016 is underway, with particularly good looks for Manchester by the Sea, The Birth of a Nation, Under the Shadow, Sing Street and Southside With You, among others.
  • Woody Allen will be starring alongside Miley Cyrus in an Amazon series he’s producing, allegedly a comedy, allegedly something watchable, but who knows. Maybe it’s a sequel series to Hannah Montana, with Allen playing an elderly Billy Ray? One can only hope.
  • A spread in Empire has teased yet another villainous presence in Batman v. Superman alongside Lex Luthor and Doomsday: Darkseid, the be-all-end-all, the Omega, the great undoer. We probably won’t actually see him in BvS, but expect hints and rumblings of him in every DC film from now ’til Justice League.

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Spotlight (2015)

One appreciates how difficult it is to make a successful film like Spotlight. Yes, you have an A-list cast at your disposal, and yes, it’s Oscar season. They’re going for it. You have a true story that is quite literally already recorded for the public eye, plain as day, and besides the revelatory Spotlight newspaper clippings you have a vast backlog of coverage on the coverage, stories about the story. Yes, most of the real people who took part in that story are still alive and willing to participate in making a film about their achievements. And yes, the crucial win is already firmly in place: this is a highly relevant story, stranger than fiction but all the more urgent for being the truth.

Granted, there’s one massive pressure point in the expectations set by the aftermath of the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. Director Tom McCarthy (“you” from the first paragraph) must have felt what Adam McKay felt in directing The Big Short, what David O. Russell felt in directing Joy, what Danny Boyle felt with Steve Jobs, what Don Cheadle felt with Miles Ahead. Any director dealing with the poster tagline Based On a True Story must ask “am I getting this right?”

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Cloverfield (2008)

Apart from an apparent drive to write about movies with single-word titles beginning with “C” — Christine, Constantine, Calvary, Coma, etc. — we were also given another reason to revisit Cloverfield in the form of a surprise pseudo-sequel, that being the upcoming 10 Cloverfield Lane. Lane was announced out of the blue last week by J.J. Abrams and Co., having already been completed and somehow kept under wraps until a mere two months before release. Impressive marketing strategies aside, the film actually looks pretty interesting. Here’s that trailer:

Cool, right? It seems like the kind of thing that just happens to take place in the world of Cloverfield, but might really be a self-contained story that could conceivably exist without the other movie. Judging from that brief look, the only thing that links the two films is the alien invasion itself, not the human characters nor the location nor any of the events of the first film. There’s no way to be certain of that, of course, but the good thing is we don’t have to wait long to find out. Presumably, this is more of a psychological thriller than Cloverfield, and presumably future sequels could follow the same format and use only the alien invasion as the linking factor. This, of course, results in the hilarious romantic comedy Clove at First Sight and the franchise crossover Angels in the Cloverfield.

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Constantine (2005)

Like it or not, the 2016 presidential election is already one for the books. On the Democratic side we have an ex-First Lady and a septuagenarian leading a whiny guy from Baltimore for the nomination; the GOP, meanwhile, having been essentially co-opted by a real estate mogul, is among others asserting a guy who literally read Green Eggs and Ham aloud on the Senate floor. For President. Of the United States.

It’s all Trump all the time, of course, primarily because of the fact that he’s an absolute firecracker and partially because of the fact that we’re all pretty much mortified that he might actually win (having the benefit of time travel, we already know he does). This past weekend The Boston Globe ran a great article about Trump’s forerunners, detailing a collection of figures who for all intents and purposes were Trump before Trump was Trump. Ironically, the point raised here is that Trump’s freshness, his standout vigor, and the anti-establishment rhetoric on which he’s built his entire campaign are in fact already storied installments in the annals of American politics. It’s history repeating itself while the guy at center stage harps about how everything he’s doing has never been done before.

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Tootsie (1982)

Tootsie was a milestone for Sydney Pollack for a variety of reasons, some of which were trumpeted by adoring critics in 1982 and some of which took the ensuing decades to gestate. Today, with the benefit of Pollack’s entire career in retrospect, Tootsie holds strong as one of the director’s finest achievements. It is arguably his masterpiece, sure, but perhaps more significantly it is arguably his first masterpiece. That’s important for a film about a struggling actor finally doing what is necessary to create his first unadulterated success, finally testing himself to a limit he’d never considered before, being rewarded for it, and unexpectedly touching other lives along the way.

Of course “masterpiece” is relative. Three Days of the Condor might be a masterpiece, as might Jeremiah Johnson to a somewhat lesser extent. One of Pollack’s unsung achievements is The Electric Horseman, not a masterpiece in and of itself but masterful at times nonetheless. Saying one is better or worse than the other is uninteresting. What’s truly fascinating — and what makes Pollack one of the greatest American directors of his time — is the clear way in which elements of those earlier films come together in collaboration on Tootsie. Consider the most basic triumphs of each of those three films: Condor was unrelenting from start to finish, Jeremiah hung itself on the power of a single actor, and Horseman was simultaneously a comedy and a tragedy.

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Film & TV News: January 18

News

  • The great Alan Rickman passed away last week after a battle with cancer. We’ll be watching Die Hard in his honor, marathoning Harry Potter, and recommending is writer/director efforts The Winter Guest and A Little Chaos to anyone who’ll listen.
  • HBO has reportedly halted production on Westworld, the Jonathan Nolan-helmed series adaptation of Michael Crichton’s seminal original film. That’s the latest in a long string of mysterious production shakeups at HBO, but it’s hard to get too rattled about it considering nearly everything they put out is of impeccable quality.
  • A lightsaber with a crossguard hilt will apparently crop up in Star Wars Rebels, and it’s possible (although highly unlikely) that Supreme Leader Snoke will make an appearance as well. I’m all for bringing elements of The Force Awakens into the earlier-set parts of the Star Wars saga, but the lightsaber concept alone kind of makes Kylo Ren’s iconic weapon a little less special. I hope I eat those words.
  • Can we talk about the impressive unveiling of 10 Cloverfield Lane? Consider how impossible it is to keep anything a secret these days. Consider how we only have to wait two months for the film, rather than two years. Consider how J.J. Abrams must have known that the Force Awakens marketing blitz would effectively serve as its own smokescreen, press outlets wrongly assuming that J.J. wouldn’t dare think of multitasking with a Star Wars film at stake (even if T.J. Miller sniped it). Trailer below.

Continue reading Film & TV News: January 18

Jailbreakers (1994)

You know Frank Miller, right? The comic book guy. No, you’re thinking of Alan Moore. Yeah, that’s right, the 300 guy. He’s done other stuff, though, far better stuff, like Sin City and Ronin and a fantastic run on Daredevil. He did the Daredevil book Born Again and the Batman books The Dark Knight Returns and Year One, all of which might legally be deemed works of genius. For a while he was one of the masters. Then, as so often happens with young artists who garner those labels — “genius” and “master” — Miller produced a string of decidedly less-than-masterful works that included the lukewarm Returns sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again and another Batman book called All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder; the latter is largely derided for the portrayal of Batman as a psychotic child-abuser, which is a new one. There are a few more stinkers, but they all get the pass in comparison to Miller’s latest book (ahem, “book”): Holy Terror. This is a story (ahem, “story”) so undercooked that it makes one wonder if Miller forgot to turn the oven on altogether. It’s somehow impossibly offensive and impossibly dull at the same time. Holy Terror is without a doubt Frank Miller’s most abominable creation, and unfortunately that’s saying something.

William Friedkin isn’t exactly the Frank Miller of film, but if he was, Jailbreakers would be his Holy Terror. The fact is that the Frank Miller of film is Frank Miller himself, who helmed his Sin City in 2005 and followed it with the increasingly awful The Spirit and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. But Friedkin, for a time, had a career in cinema that seemed to be following the hugely disappointing formula that Miller’s laid in comics. For an exhaustive breakdown of the early struggle, the well-earned rise, the questionable fall, the lull, and the eventual redemption of the director known as William Friedkin, I highly recommend this piece by Dissolve‘s Noel Murray. In fact, Dissolve‘s entire Career View column is highly recommended. In fact, Dissolve‘s entire catalog is highly recommended.

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Netflix Picks #5

Patrick: This past August, I lived in Pamplona, Spain which is directly on the route of “El camino de Santiago”, a famous 800 kilometer pilgrimage route through the Pyrenees to the shrine of Saint James in Northwestern Spain. Every day, I would see “pilgrims” with backpacks as big as they were walking by. Being an ignorant American, I asked a Spanish friend about all of the pilgrims, and he told me to watch the Martin “Seen” movie. After a puzzled look and a few Que?s I realized he was talking about Martin Sheen and the movie The Way.

Recently, I finally watched the Emilio Estevez movie starring his own father which, not coincidentally, is about a father who has lost his son on the camino and decides to do the walk himself to scatter his son’s ashes on the pilgrimage he could never finish. I started to watch the movie out of nostalgia for my short-lived home and to see all the sites again, but continued watching because I genuinely liked it. The movie has somewhat of an Into the Wild feel to it, with a personal journey and the bonds formed and lessons learned on it. Martin Sheen’s Tom relearns the importance of travel, feels more connected to his now-deceased son, and meets some interesting people along the way: Sarah takes the journey to quit smoking; Joost walks the 800 kilometers to lose weight; Jack needs the pilgrimage to beat his writer’s block. Together, they take the journey. And together, they make the journey that is The Way a fun but profound movie, certainly worth the watch whether you’ve lived in Navarra or never heard of it before.

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Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)

When there’s a vampire around, odds are a werewolf isn’t far away. In the last couple decades movies concerned with the bloodsucking creatures of the night — Twilight, Van Helsing, even What We Do in the Shadows — seem inevitably concerned also with slightly hairier, howlier creatures. They’re never equally concerned with werewolves, though, casting them consistently in cameos for pure shock value, and so the conceit of the third Underworld film Rise of the Lycans is a smart one: give the werewolves their due.

The result is by no means a good movie, unless you’re somehow enraptured by the Underworld series. If you’re not, then you might refer to Rise of the Lycans as The One Without Kate Beckinsale, which is a large part of the film’s undoing in the same way the new Independence Day could essentially be subtitled The One Without Will Smith. The bitch of it all is that Michael Sheen, starring as head were-dude Lucian, is a far better actor than Beckinsale will likely ever be. He’s a Shakespearian tragedian, she’s an action hero. Underworld, of course, actually needs the latter, and sadly Michael Sheen just isn’t an action hero. His head’s too big. He’s got the biceps, sure, but everyone has the biceps these days. Have you guys seen Jonathan Lipnicki lately? Sheen is somehow more naturally proportional in his werewolf form than as a regular human. Maybe they should have CGI’d his forehead down.

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Film & TV News: January 10

News

  • Guys: a Deadwood movie. We dare not dwell on this possibility and are currently knocking on every wooden object in the vicinity, but HBO and David Milch have stated that “it’s happening”. Lots of deserving shows bring up the possibility of concluding with a movie, but a Deadwood film just makes perfect sense.
  • Lots of TV news this week, as a matter of fact: Steven Soderbergh has revealed a six-year plan for The Knick, Ridley Scott has expressed interest in helming an adaptation of The Prisoner, and Arrested Development will be structuring its fifth season like Making a Murderer. All of those things sound awesome.
  • Christopher Nolan’s next film will be Dunkirk, and fellow collaborator Hans Zimmer has already signed on for scoring duties. Tom Hardy’s name has been thrown out for a starring role, but that’s just a rumor at this point.
  • Aaron Sorkin will make his directorial debut with Molly’s Game, a true-life tale of a championship skier who turns into a “gambling matron”. If Sorkin can cherrypick from the directors he’s collaborated with recently — David Fincher on The Social Network, Bennet Miller on Moneyball, Danny Boyle on Steve Jobs — then Molly’s Game will be one to watch.

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