April 16, 2013 3:54pm EST
These past nine years have seen the Tribeca Film Festival transform from a patriotic passion project of Robert DeNiro into one of the most exciting annual purveyors of new film. Tribeca has upheld the flavor of independent cinema with countless small and engaging projects, but has hardly fallen victim to these limitations — just last year, the festival debuted The Avengers, as big a movie as one can imagine. The variety maintains with 2013's slate, kicking off this week. No matter what breed of cinephile you might be, the Tribeca slate has something to be excited over...
You wanna laugh?Indie fests aren’t all tearjerkers and documentaries. Tribeca ’13 has a healthy platter of comedy in store. A few attractive entries: Adult World, in which aspiring writer Emma Roberts works at a sex shop while taking literary advice from an eccentric John Cusack; A Case of You, which stars Justin Long as a young man who lies on his Internet dating profile (is there any alternative, really?) to impress barista Evan Rachel Wood; and the wicked G.B.F., which highlights the competition of two vapid popular teens to win the camaraderie of their high school’s first openly gay student.
Not into that? Fine. As a wise man once said, “Laughs are cheap. I’m going for gasps.” We’ve got you covered:If your preferred movie-watching position is at the edge of your seat, Tribeca’s list of thrillers, horrors, and crime dramas will peak interest: holding up the fantastical, there’s Byzantium, in which mother-daughter pair Gemma Arteron and Saoirse Ronan (doesn’t it seem like they’d be more appropriately cast as sisters?) fend off a ganglion of undead monsters; an emotional punch invades the genre with A Single Shot, in which a Sam Rockwell vies desperately to reunite with his family after being wrongfull accused of murder, and in Whitewash, which sees Thomas Haden Church circling the drain in the wake of an accidental killing; finally, things get their darkest in Big Bad Wolves, when two vigilantes (one with a badge) take the apprehension of an alleged serial killer into their own hands.
Would you prefer tears?There’s nothing like a good cry and there’s no deficit of sob stories at Tribeca: kick off with the troubled father-son story of At Any Price, in which corn farmer Dennis Quaid comes to blows with his son Zac Efron, the contentious economy of the corn industry, and his own compulsive pride; there’s some hard-hitting material to be found in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which illustrates a young Pakistani man’s personal and professional experiences in America following the events of Sept. 11; and in the especially promising Bottled Up, we have Melissa Leo, tackling a new gritty story (hopefully without those dreadful Oscar pleas this time around) about the complicated journey attached to devoting one’s heart to a drug addict.
How about Paul Rudd? You like Paul Rudd, right?Especially when he’s hanging out with some other guy? We’ve got two for you, then. Take your pick:Almost Christmas, in which smooth-talking Rudd teams up with conman and cuckold Paul Giamatti in the get-rich-quick game, or Prince Avalanche, in which highway worker Rudd teams up with his nubile brother-in-law Emile Hirsch in the doing-nothing-for-hours-on-end game. Both strong candidates.
Well you must like cat videos…The documentary Lil Bub & Friendz proves that America’s kitten GIF fixation has extended far and beyond an at-work distraction. It is now a full-on, film-inspiring religion.
You like your documentary subjects to be a little more… sophisticated?Okay, hot shot. How’s Gore freakin’ Vidal? Burr Steers, Christopher Hitchens and more lend their takes on the superhuman American writer in the doc Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia.
Finally, the one we're all waiting for:Ladies and gentlemen, Before Midnight, the third (and possibly final... but who knows anymore) chapter of Richard Linklater's story of romance involving a garrulous Ethan Hawke and a scathing Julie Delpy. When the trio introduced the small but unstoppable Before Sunrise in 1995, it invoked something fresh and humane. When the follow-up Before Sunset hit in 2004, fans were doused by the amazement of the sequel's ability to not only live up to, but to perhaps completely outdo its predecessor. And word on the street is, Before Midnight is more than worthy of its company among these heartrending gems. Tribeca might have a lot of gold lined up this year, but nothing more exciting than Before Midnight.
More:2013 Tribeca Includes a Paul Rudd Buddy Comedy and a 'Star Wars' Remake'Before Midnight' Completes a Trilogy at Sundance, Questions True LoveSXSW's 'Prince Avalanche' Is a Hilarious, Touching Odd Couple Story
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January 30, 2013 4:00am EST
The Casino Royale femme fatale will portray the new film's deadly muse, Ava Lord - who screenwriter and co-director Frank Miller describes as "every man's most glorious dreams come true," adding, "she's also every man's darkest nightmares".
Rodriguez says, "Ava Lord is one of the most deadly and fascinating residents of Sin City. From the start, we knew that the actor would need to be able to embody the multifaceted characteristics of this femme fatale and we found that in Eva Green. We are ecstatic that Eva is joining us."
She joins a cast that includes returning stars Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson and Jaime King, and fellow newcomers Josh Brolin, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ray Liotta, Dennis Haysbert and Christopher Meloni.
Production is underway at Rodriguez's Troublemaker Studios in Austin, Texas.
January 25, 2013 8:27am EST
It's not that Movie 43 is shocking or "edgy " or whatever any of the writers or directors would like to convince you. If you want to actually puke or cry or be shocked you can go to Rotten.com like the rest of us Internet miscreants. The Cinema of Transgression films by Nick Zedd and Richard Kern have more artistic value than Movie 43 and are generally more interesting. Which is saying a lot because Zedd's films can get pretty boring. You can only see Annie Sprinkle make out with a man who's listed as Ray the Burn Victim for so long... although I feel terrible for writing because everyone needs love. Sorry Ray.
Movie 43 has 12 directors and 17 writers credited with this anthology of shorts modeled according to producers Peter Farrelly and Charlie Wessler in the spirit of Kentucky Fried Movie. Surprisingly none of those writers or directors go by the name Alan Smithee. It's not even totally clear which were written and directed by whom; the production notes are "hilarious first hand [sic] accounts from those who were a part of and were witnesses to the creation of MOVIE 43."
Kate Winslet and Halle Berry and Richard Gere were tricked into participating which is supposed to make their "outrageous" shorts all the more titillating. One of the larger problems of Movie 43 is that it relies on this handful of mega-stars and on our reactions to them and their off-screen personas all in lieu of genuine comedy onscreen. Would it be funny if some schmuck on YouTube played a Steve Jobs-like character who didn't understand why his company's iBabe music player — which looks like a naked woman but has a coolant system with a fan between its legs — was mangling users? No it wouldn't. And it's definitely not any funnier because it's Richard Gere playing him.
What's most offensive about Movie 43 isn't the scatological humor but how shoddily the whole thing was put together. (To be honest I did nearly walk out during the Anna Faris/Chris Pratt short about her desire to be pooped on. I also nearly barfed during Salo. Because poop.) In quite a few of the shorts half of the actors' heads are cut out of frame. Their heads are literally cut off of the screen in a movie that was professionally filmed by accredited cinematographers. Now it could have been the theater projecting the film that was having the problem but that's not really my concern. My concern was mainly that a handful of paying customers (including myself) were sitting through a studio movie where the top of actors' heads aren't in frame.
The self-referential wraparound for the movie is embarrassing for everyone involved including the viewer. Dennis Quaid plays a disheveled crazy writer who holds a studio exec (Greg Kinnear) hostage until the exec agrees to buy his movie pitch. His pitch is the series of shorts which the exec obviously thinks is a terrible idea... because it is. This is like adding insult to injury because the creators know what they've made is crap. Even the studio exec that they themselves wrote thinks the premise of Movie 43 is crap and has to be held at gunpoint to bring the idea to his boss. This idea that you will have wasted 90 minutes of your life on — minutes you could have spent watching YouTube videos of people squeezing their own cysts or having botflies removed from their bodies or yes making out with burn victims.
Complain all you like about stodgy critics who have no sense of humor and don't get "the kids" today and all that but it seems that Peter Farrelly and the group of people who forced this towards theaters (with little to no help from most of the stars or writers or directors) are the ones who are completely out of touch. With anything. Including humor.'s>
January 18, 2013 1:22pm EST
It's one of Hollywood's greatest mysteries: what happened in the early morning hours of Nov. 29, 1981 that resulted in the drowning death of Natalie Wood?
Thirty-one years later, we're still not entirely sure. The actress was one of the most successful to ever make the jump from child-star, in films like Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and The Ghost of Mrs. Muir (1947), to angsty teenager in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and The Searchers (1956), to accomplished adult thespian in Splendor in the Grass (1961) and West Side Story (1961). Wood and her movie-star husband Robert Wagner were one of Hollywood's true power couples. Since she'd never been a subject for scandal-mongers, her death at the age of 43 came as a true shock.
The incredible thing is that the tragedy has been back in the news the past year and a half, ever since the captain of the yacht on which Wood and Wagner were vacationing announced that he had lied to investigators about what happened that night. He said Wagner was "responsible for her death" because he allegedly refused to look for Wood when she went missing following an argument. Just this week, on January 14, the Los Angeles County Coroner's office released 10 additional pages to its autopsy report on Wood's body that suggested she may have incurred bruises before she went into the water. There's no way to conclusively determine that that was the case, but it suggests an assault may have proceeded her death.
It's a lot to make sense of, so if you're scratching your head about the details we've taken it upon ourselves to round up what we do know...and what we still don't.
What was the original account of the events surrounding Wood's death?
Wood had just finished shooting Douglas Trumbull's science fiction film Brainstorm with Christopher Walken, so she, Wagner, and Walken rented a yacht, the Splendour, to take a vacation cruise to Santa Catalina Island off the Southern California coast. According to the initial account given to investigators, the three of them ate at a restaurant on the island on the evening of Nov. 28, 1981. Afterwards, they returned to the yacht, and Wagner and Walken got into a major shouting match. Wood was dragged into it, and eventually she stormed off to her cabin. However, when Wagner, who had remained on deck drinking, went to join her in their cabin, she was nowhere to be found. The next morning Wood's body drifted ashore about a mile away from the yacht and was found near an inflatable dinghy.
What was the long-held theory about the circumstances of her death?
When the L.A. County Coroner's Office got the results back from a toxicology study performed on Wood's body, it showed she had a blood alcohol level of 0.14%. The legal limit in California is 0.08%. She also had taken two prescriptions: one was for motion sickness, the other a painkiller. Those would undoubtedly have amplified the effect of the alcohol. The theory was that Wood noticed the dinghy was getting loose from the side of the yacht, so she tried to tie it back up. And in doing so, fell overboard. That would explain the bruises on her torso and arms, and the abrasion on her left cheek. The official cause of death was listed as both drowning and hypothermia. The other possibility is that, enraged by the argument she had with her husband, she took off in the dinghy to head for shore and never made it.
Who was listed as being responsible for Wood's death?
No one. The Coroner's Office determined that her death was nothing more than a tragic accident.
So why was the inquiry reopened in 2011?
On the 30th anniversary of Wood's death, the Splendour's captain, Dennis Davern, announced on on the Today show that he had lied to authorities during the initial inquiry. He alleged that Wagner delayed reporting his wife missing, "didn't take any steps to see if [he] could locate her," and thus, in his opinion, was "responsible for her death." The initial autopsy concluded, based on the contents of Wood's stomach, that she had died right around midnight on the morning of Nov. 29. Wagner didn't report her missing until around 1:30 a.m.
L.A. Coroner Dr. Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, a semi-celebrity from his extensive testimony during the O.J. Simpson murder trial, reopened the case, as did LAPD investigators. They interviewed 100 new witnesses and reexamined the original autopsy report. Nine months after Davern's new allegations, Dr. Sathyavagiswaran changed the cause of death on Wood's death certificate to "drowning and other undetermined factors." Beyond that the LAPD had ordered the coroner's office not to divulge any further details of the new investigation.
Was there any indication of foul play?
For the past 31 years, the official answer to this question has been "no." However, on Jan. 14, Dr. Sathyavagiswaran released a ten-page addendum to the original autopsy report, which suggested that the bruises on Wood's torso and arms, and the gash on her left cheek, might have been the result of a struggle before she went into the water and not from her body getting carried by the tide after she'd drowned, as had always been assumed. There's no conclusive evidence to definitively determine when was those bruises were incurred. They could still just has easily have come after she was in the water, but it's not a certainty.
If there was foul play, is the LAPD circling suspects in her death?
No. The official position of the LAPD is that Wood's death was an accident, and that there are no pending charges or suspects in the case.
What's Robert Wagner's response to the investigation and Capt. Davern's claims?
The only response Wagner has had to the latest update in the investigation he released as a statement through his attorney, Blair Berk: "After 30 years, neither Mr. Wagner nor his daughters have any new information to add to this latest investigation, which was unfortunately prompted by those seeking to exploit and sensationalize the 30th anniversary of the death of his wife and their mother." Additionally, The Los Angeles Times reports that Wagner has not agreed to grant the LAPD an interview regarding the new developments in the probe, and that he is the only surviving person who was on that yacht the night of Wood's death with whom they have not spoken since the initial inquiry in 1981.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Getty]
New Development in Natalie Wood Case
Natalie Wood’s Death No Longer Ruled ‘An Accidental Drowning’
Natalie Wood’s Cause of Death Changed to ‘Undetermined’
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January 17, 2013 7:53am EST
When you think about cherries, you probably think about pie. Or maybe you think about sex — specifically, the time some girl tried to tie a cherry stem with her tongue, but then failed, and it was hilarious. You could be thinking about a Shirley Temple cocktail... but you probably aren't, since it doesn't have any alcohol (so why would you?). Or, if you're like me, and don't think about cherries at all. Ever. Because cherries scare the sh*t out of you.
I was forced to think about the devil's fruit when I heard that it plays a role in the new supernatural thriller, Mama. (You've heard of it, it's with Jessica Chastain.) And since I heard this rumor from a reliable source, who actually did see an early screening of the movie, I'm going to take a back seat. There's no way I'm voluntarily going to see another movie featuring those nasty pits. But in case you're wondering, here's the gist: two feral girls (ew) are inexplicably fed cherries (ew) for the five years they lived alone in a cabin in the woods with Mama. That's all they eat. So, when they're eventually discovered, they find them and a huge pile of pits (ew). The younger one continues to eat them (ew) after they re-enter society, and the director routinely cuts to her sucking down cherries (ew) and spitting out the pits (ew). If that's not enough to deter you from the film (but really, go see it! I hear it's quite good) then I don't know what is.
Oh wait! Yes I do! You see, this isn't the first time cherries have caused deep fear and unease on the big screen. And it's no coincidence these twisted directors keep choosing cherries as their supporting stars. There's a reason I won't go near them at bodegas. There's a reason I cringe at even a jarred maraschino. There's a reason I want to set fire to all cherry-printed apparel. And now I live a life of sad cherry-less ice cream sundaes.
It all stemmed (ha) from The Witches of Eastwick. You know, that crazy-ass fantasy movie with Jack Nicholson and Cher (!) and some other great people, and a whole bunch of spells and stuff. Well, it was entertaining — and even light-hearted — until someone tried to mess with Nicholson's character Daryl Van Horne. People should know better than to mess with him by now. Anyway, one woman (her name was Felicia, like it matters) decides that he's the devil, and begins ranting about him to her husband. Shortly after, she starts vomiting cherry stones. Don't remember? Go ahead, try and watch.
Then there was Cold Creek Manor with Dennis Quaid and Sharon Stone. They both seem like nice people who would be in a nice movie. But it's not nice a movie. It's not nice because of the cherries! In one horrid scene, Dennis Quaid visits the original owner of Cold Creek Manor (yes, that was actually Christopher Plummer) in a mental hospital. He's a senile lunatic who can't stop cramming chocolate covered cherries in his mouth. "Gimme another cherry! Gimme another cherry!" That's his famous line, and it's beyond frightening.
And if you still haven't been totally grossed out (who are you?), take a look at the trailer for this endearing film, Cherry Falls, about a small town murderer who kills all the virgins of the local high school. It's quite pleasant!
I never intended to scare you away from eating cherries altogether (yes I did), but please do bear this bit of information in mind the next time you hear about a cherry cameo in a film. Just know it won't be sexy at all.
[Image Credit: George Kraychyk/Universal Pictures]
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January 09, 2013 4:37am EST
Those keeping up with the continuous roll out of awards circuit nominations have, by now, come to notice a trend. Despite the wide variety of organizations offering recognition of film achievement, each year there are bound to be some mainstays: specific movies that top every venue's list.
So far, 2012's nomination championship falls in the lap of Lincoln, Steven Spielberg's beloved biopic about America's 16th president. The British Academy of Film and Television Arts has revealed its nominations, cementing Lincoln as the past year's most impressive spectacle. The historical drama earns 10 nods from BAFTA, including the top honor of Best Film. In Lincoln's company are other unsurprising entries: Les Miserables and Life of Pi each take in nine nominations (both Best Film candidates as well), and Argo ropes in seven (another top honor hopeful). Check out the full list of nominees below.
LIFE OF PI
ZERO DARK THIRTY
OUTSTANDING BRITISH FILM
THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL
OUTSTANDING DEBUT BY A BRITISH WRITER, DIRECTOR OR PRODUCER
BART LAYTON (Director), DIMITRI DOGANIS (Producer) — The Imposter
DAVID MORRIS (Director), JACQUI MORRIS (Director/Producer) — McCullin
DEXTER FLETCHER (Director/Writer), DANNY KING (Writer) — Wild Bill
JAMES BOBIN (Director) — The Muppets
TINA GHARAVI (Director/Writer) — I Am Nasrine
FILM NOT IN THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE
RUST AND BONE
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN
WEST OF MEMPHIS
MICHAEL HANEKE — Amour
BEN AFFLECK — Argo
QUENTIN TARANTINO — Django Unchained
ANG LEE — Life of Pi
KATHRYN BIGELOW — Zero Dark Thirty
AMOUR (Writer: Michael Haneke)
DJANGO UNCHAINED (Writer: Quentin Tarantino)
THE MASTER (Writer: Paul Thomas Anderson)
MOONRISE KINGDOM (Writers: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola)
ZERO DARK THIRTY (Writer: Mark Boal)
ARGO (Writer: Chris Terrio)
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (Writers: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin)
LIFE OF PI (Writer: David Magee)
LINCOLN (Writer: Tony Kushner)
SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (Writer: David O. Russell)
BEN AFFLECK — Argo
BRADLEY COOPER — Silver Linings Playbook
DANIEL DAY-LEWIS — Lincoln
HUGH JACKMAN — Les Misérables
JOAQUIN PHOENIX — The Master
EMMANUELLE RIVA — Amour
HELEN MIRREN — Hitchcock
JENNIFER LAWRENCE — Silver Linings Playbook
JESSICA CHASTAIN — Zero Dark Thirty
MARION COTILLARD — Rust and Bone
ALAN ARKIN — Argo
CHRISTOPH WALTZ — Django Unchained
JAVIER BARDEM — Skyfall
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN — The Master
TOMMY LEE JONES — Lincoln
AMY ADAMS — The Master
ANNE HATHAWAY — Les Misérables
HELEN HUNT — The Sessions
JUDI DENCH — Skyfall
SALLY FIELD — Lincoln
ANNA KARENINA (Dario Marianelli)
ARGO (Alexandre Desplat)
LIFE OF PI (Mychael Danna)
LINCOLN (John Williams)
SKYFALL (Thomas Newman)
ANNA KARENINA (Seamus McGarvey)
LES MISÉRABLES (Danny Cohen)
LIFE OF PI (Claudio Miranda)
LINCOLN (Janusz Kaminski)
SKYFALL (Roger Deakins)
ARGO (William Goldenberg)
DJANGO UNCHAINED (Fred Raskin)
LIFE OF PI (Tim Squyres)
SKYFALL (Stuart Baird)
ZERO DARK THIRTY (Dylan Tichenor, William Goldenberg)
ANNA KARENINA (Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer)
LES MISÉRABLES (Eve Stewart, Anna Lynch-Robinson)
LIFE OF PI (David Gropman, Anna Pinnock)
LINCOLN (Rick Carter, Jim Erickson)
SKYFALL (Dennis Gassner, Anna Pinnock)
ANNA KARENINA (Jacqueline Durran)
GREAT EXPECTATIONS (Beatrix Aruna Pasztor)
LES MISÉRABLES (Paco Delgado)
LINCOLN (Joanna Johnston)
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (Colleen Atwood)
MAKE UP & HAIR
ANNA KARENINA (Ivana Primorac)
HITCHCOCK (Julie Hewett, Martin Samuel, Howard Berger)
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (Peter Swords King, Richard Taylor, Rick Findlater)
LES MISÉRABLES (Lisa Westcott)
LINCOLN (Lois Burwell, Kay Georgiou)
DJANGO UNCHAINED (Mark Ulano, Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti, Wylie Stateman)
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (Tony Johnson, Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges, Michael Semanick, Brent Burge, Chris Ward)
LES MISÉRABLES (Simon Hayes, Andy Nelson, Mark Paterson, Jonathan Allen, Lee Walpole, John Warhurst)
LIFE OF PI (Drew Kunin, Eugene Gearty, Philip Stockton, Ron Bartlett, D. M. Hemphill)
SKYFALL (Stuart Wilson, Scott Millan, Greg P. Russell, Per Hallberg, Karen Baker Landers)
SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Peter Bebb, Andrew Lockley)
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White)
LIFE OF PI (Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer)
MARVEL AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (Nominees TBC)
PROMETHEUS (Richard Stammers, Charley Henley, Trevor Wood, Paul Butterworth)
HERE TO FALL
I’M FINE THANKS
THE MAKING OF LONGBIRD
THE VOORMAN PROBLEM
Click here to read about BAFTA's Rising Star Award nominations, which include Elizabeth Olsen and Juno Temple.
[Photo Credit: David James/20th Century Fox]
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November 27, 2012 11:52am EST
Sometimes a director has a favorite actor that they jibe with whom they cast in a whole whack of movies in a row. Think Scorsese and DiCaprio Wes Anderson and Bill Murray or Sofia Coppola and Kirsten Dunst. It's a sort of professional infatuation that can serve a project well but it can also lull them into self-indulgence. Although this is only the second time that Killing Them Softly's writer/director Andrew Dominik has worked with Brad Pitt it feels like they have a certain camaraderie. The symbiosis previously worked in their favor in 2007's The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. This time around they never quite find the same rhythm.
Of course Killing Them Softly has an entirely difference cadence than that golden-hued meditative Western; it's stylishly violent and blackly hilarious. After all the catalyst for this whole affair is a half-cocked scheme cooked up by a wanna-be gangster nicknamed Squirrel (Vincent Curatola) and carried out by a desperate ex-con (Scoot McNairy) and a scummy Australian junkie (Ben Mendelsohn) who steals and sells purebred dogs for cash. Their plan to knock over a mobbed-up card game is air tight (or so it seems): the game runner Markie (Ray Liotta) has confessed to setting up a heist of his own game in the past. The knuckleheads think the card-players will blame him again.
Unfortunately for them Jackie Cogan (Pitt) is called in to investigate the matter. His record is impeccable his glasses mirror-slick and his hands steady. His technique is of course to kill his victims "softly " from a distance. "It's so embarrassing " he comments to a middleman played by Richard Jenkins to watch his targets plead and cry and lose control of their bodily functions. It's just as embarrassing to see his colleagues lose their mettle like Mickey (James Gandolfini) a gangster he called in to help out. Mickey is a dogged drunk and a womanizer who's given to rapturous platitudes about a prostitute he knew in Florida. "There's no ass in the whole world like a young Jewish girl who's hooking " he tells an increasingly frustrated Jackie. Grossly funny scenes like this the scatological problems one encounters while driving dog-napped pups across country and an explosion gone awry are outweighed by a weirdly bloated narrative that makes pits stops so characters can loll in junkie nods to the tunes of the Velvet Underground.
The changing political climate of the era is used as a clumsy foil for this underground economy. At first it's interesting and makes you feel a bit clever to notice the TV in the background playing an old clip of George W. Bush droning on about the economy or a huge political ad on a billboard looming over a desolate area. As time goes on Bush is replaced by Obama (first as senator later as president) on TV but nothing really changes for these people or their situations. Midway through it's obvious and by the end overbearing especially as Jackie lectures Jenkins's lawyer (and us) about why the system is as screwed as the characters. "America's not a country it's a business. Now f**king pay me " he tells Jenkins's Driver in an echo of the classic Goodfellas line uttered by Liotta.
Dominik has only made three films but he's a formidable writer and director with a keen eye for assembling ensemble casts. It's possible that time and multiple viewings will treat Killing Them Softly as well as it has The Assassination of Jesse James or Chopper but for now it works better as a character study or perhaps a showpiece for its talented performers than an overall experience.
November 13, 2012 10:20am EST
Forget that the latest adaptation of Leo Tolstoy's sweeping romance novel comes from the man who brought us the slick-but-stuffy Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. Every frame of director Joe Wright's Anna Karenina is a wonder to behold overflowing with visual spectacle and roaring performances. Keira Knightley Jude Law Aaron Taylor-Johnson and the rest of the cast fit perfectly in the high drama epic but it's really Wright's playground. Following Hanna an artful spin on the action movie Wright returns to the period drama but injects it with dazzling daring choices. A book like Anna Karenina could once fit in reality but its larger-than-life legacy precedes it. Wright acknowledges that from frame one approaching the film like a grand ballet or opera where grand gestures broad emotions and overt theatrics are commonplace. That vision clicks transforming Anna Karenina into an exhilarating moviegoing experience.
The storyline of Anna Karenina isn't far off from a daytime soap: It's 1874 and Anna (Knightley) is floating through existence as the wife of influential government player Karenin (Law). But when her brother Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) summons her to Moscow to save his marriage Anna's entire world is shaken up. She meets Vronsky (Taylor-Johnson) a cavalry hunk who finds himself smitten with the taken lady. She's in the same boat: The two strike up a flirtatious relationship that evolves into one of sexual passion. A scandalous affair would incite trouble in the preset day but in the 19th century it's the ultimate crime. Quickly Anna's life comes crumbling down.
The intertwining melodrama of Anna Karenina earned the novel its classic status but Wright uses the material as a launching pad for imagination rather than a tome to translate to screen. Many of the scenes are staged in a theater creating an instant awareness of the production. Sets shift and are reconstructed into new rooms; actors costume change in the span of single shots; action sequences like a thrilling horse race are conducted on stage with special effects you might see on Broadway. Wright works this sort of stylization in the other direction too; a character could walk an empty stage open a door and suddenly be on a snow-covered hill. Anna Karenina isn't the first film to use the effect but in Wright's hands it's exhilarating.
The movie is Wright's third collaboration with Knightley and easily their most successful. Knightley never struggles to stay on the same page as the heightened material whether she's nailing a dance sequence or breaking down in a flood of tears. Casting an ensemble around Knightley is no easy task but Taylor-Johnson gives his best work yet as the debonair love interest and Macfadyen steals the show with moments of physical comedy.
We have expectations of the texture and structure of period romances. Anna Karenina defies them. Masterpiece Theater it is not.
November 02, 2012 9:14am EST
The Man with the Iron Fists the directorial debut of music artist RZA is clearly a love letter to all of the Wu Tang frontman's passions. An old school kung fu movie infused with hip hop beats and a comic book aesthetic Iron Fists rarely makes a lick of sense but it's a collage of imagination — and that earns it a few points. Like a cinematic version of the backyard games we all used to play RZA casts himself as a Chinese town's resident badass who teams up with a cowboy to take down an army of ninjas assassins. The freeform style allows him to run wild rarely providing actual thrills but resulting in an action movie overflowing with heart. Bloody bloody heart.
The manic script for Iron Fists written by RZA and Eli Roth (Cabin Fever Hostel) interlocks a handful of colorful characters with varying degrees of success: The Blacksmith (RZA) a freed slave who hopes to earn enough bucks to whisk his love prostitute Lady Silk (Jamie Chung) away from the Pink Blossom brothel; Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu) the brothel's owner (and local mobster); Silver Lion (Byron Mann) a murderous gangster out to overtake the city with the help of his magical metallic underling Brass Body (Dave Bautista); Zen Yi a.k.a. The X-Blade (Rick Yune) whose father was killed at the hands of Silver Lion and now seeks revenge; and Jack Knife (Russell Crowe) a mysterious British gunslinger taking residence at the Pink Blossom who may have ulterior motives. Iron Fists bounces between the plot threads without much worry — you never really know who is doing what or why. But if characters say what they're thinking with conviction then beat the daylights out of their opponent it's supposed to suffice. More often than not it does.
What Iron Fists lacks in coherency it makes up for in absurdity. RZA pumps up the volume on every element of the film from costumes that shoot daggers to flamboyant overacting evildoers to Jack Knife taking the goriest route to defeat an enemy (in this case using a knife gun to rip up a heavyset man's insides). Taking a page from mentor Quentin Tarantino's book anything can happen in this Eastern martial soap opera and everything does happen. It's money shot after money shot the rapid pace reminiscent of channel surfing — likely the way most kung fu fans stumbled upon the type of films that inspire Iron Fists back in the '70s and '80s.
Not every moment pops — unlike Liu and Crowe RZA doesn't exactly light up the screen when given the freedom to go crazy. Blacksmith is a muted mumbling character who doesn't throw himself into a fight the way a kung fu movie demands from its lead. Behind the camera the fight scenes are choreographed similarly to how the movie is structured: randomly with the occasional inspired moment. But the inventiveness of the mechanics keeps Iron Fists working. A scene with two twins using contortion to throw and kick and punch their way through hoards of bad guys is a joy. Seeing Crowe (obviously not an expert in martial arts) lay down a few moves is pure fun too.
The Man with the Iron Fists isn't as expertly crafted as Tarantino's Kill Bill but it has more mind-boggling oddities. RZA unleashes his passion into the film so even when the story or action isn't working something else on screen is.
October 22, 2012 12:35pm EST
Tonight is the last of the 2012 Presidential Debates between President Barack Obama and the Republican Presidential Nominee, Mitt Romney. The country will watch — and learn — as the two share their positions on foreign policy issues. While Obama and Romney answer important questions about Libya, Afghanistan, and China, we at Hollywood.com are staging a debate of our own. Today, we decided to argue the subject of which fictional U.S. President we’d rather see get elected. Writers Alicia Lutes and Christian Blauvelt square off on this vital issue.
Alicia Lutes’ Opening Argument for Jed Bartlet:Politics! Man, we just can't seem to get enough of them these days, huh? With Election Day breathing down our necks, it's no wonder we tend to look nostalgically on our former fictional presidents with such fondness. Many of them are crafted as an ideal that would probably never be elected in today's hostile climate. But in the pantheon of faux-presidents, the most impressive one of all is undoubtedly The West Wing's own, President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet (played by the incomparable Martin Sheen).
President Bartlet, prior to his time in office, was an academic economist with a fierce belief in the good of people. He attended Notre Dame—despite also being accepted to Yale and Harvard—as he also thought of becoming a priest. (And we all know that religious beliefs are a big thing for politicians.) Rather than be strictly defined by his religious beliefs, President Bartlet's pragmatic take on his own Catholic faith provided him with a compassionate backbone that coursed through everything he did. After getting a Master's Degree and a PhD from the London School of Economics (so impressive!), he became a tenured professor at Dartmouth University.
Only then did he decide to get into politics—where he served three terms as state representative and later in the House of Representatives, before returning to his home state of New Hampshire to serve as Governor. For a state as libertarian and at-times conservative as New Hampshire can be, this was no small feat for a wildly liberal candidate. Oh, and did we mention that he has a Nobel Prize in economics?
President Bartlet was a man who knew the two most important things to grow and move a country forward are education and the economy—something that no doubt pulls at the heartstrings of any modern American, regardless of your political leanings. Always one to know that his biggest asset are the people in his orbit, President Bartlet surrounded himself with other intelligent men and women—regardless of Republican or Democratic labels (We'll never forget you, Ainsley Hayes)—to help inform his decisions. Just look at the relationship cultivated between President Bartlet and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Percy Fitzwallace: Fitzwallace was a military man through-and-through, and, though their relationship was strained at first, Bartlet saw how invaluable his knowledge was to the administration (and ultimately, the American people). His respect for the strengths of others is certainly to be admired.
And don't even get me started on the incredible achievements he made while in office! From electing highly intelligent justices into the system: including Roberto Mendoza, Evelyn Baker Lang, the first female Chief Justice, and the conservative-but-whip-smart Christopher Mulready, Bartlet's focus was always on the protection of Americans' right to freedom and the American way. A progressive in a time when it was deadly to do so, President Bartlet vetoed the Marriage Recognition Act, in order to further the debate on same-sex marriage: a real taboo in the early aughts. He also saved social security. Oh, and remember that whole Mideast peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians? Yeah, I think we can all agree that was pretty huge. A bipartisan president with a love of country, its people, and the greater, long-term good? No one holds a candle to President Bartlet. Sorry, Christian, but it's just the truth!
Christian Blauvelt’s Opening Argument for David Palmer:Interesting that both of our candidates are Democrats, Alicia. (We promise no institutional bias!) But how can you possibly say that Jed Bartlet is a better president than 24’s David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert)? Yeah, I know, Palmer’s critics will charge that his legacy, raised nearly to the level of myth after his tragic assassination, is an America transformed into a terror-ridden police state in which security issues dwarf all other policy priorities. But no matter. President Palmer saw America through several of its darkest hours, often while in grave jeopardy himself. Not to mention that his ability to balance personal and presidential duties, often neatly resolving all his pressing conflicts within the tidy time-span of 24 hours, is a model of multi-tasking that any Commander in Chief would hope to emulate. As far as I know, President Bartlet’s great achievement in multi-tasking was the ability to walk down hallways and talk at the same time.
David Palmer would make history as the first African-American President of the United States. His entrée to the world of politics began years earlier during his undergraduate studies at Georgetown University. Though he showed early signs of prodigious wonkery, his college career is perhaps best remembered for his epic game-winning three-pointer against DePaul in the 1979 Final Four. Putting his hoop dreams aside, Palmer earned his Juris Doctorate from the University of Maryland. His political career began in earnest when he was elected U.S. Senator from Maryland, where he quickly rose through the ranks of the Armed Services Committee. In 1998, during the military campaign against Slobodan Miloševic, he authorized several black ops missions and quickly developed a reputation for making tough but well-reasoned decisions regardless of political expediency—or even his own personal safety. When one of Miloševic’s top lieutenants sent assassins after him in retribution, Palmer didn’t waver. He even proceeded with his presidential campaign despite the threat to his own life and won the heated California Democratic primary, clinching his nomination just hours after a sniper took a shot at him.
Aside from sheer bravery, Palmer’s greatest virtue was his ability to trust. Despite his advisers telling him that former Counter-Terrorist Unit Chief Jack Bauer was a rogue agent, he believed that Bauer was a good if exceedingly violent man, who wanted to protect him. Sure, Palmer’s belief in people could be abused—most notably by his wife Sherry, who continually exploited his political clout for her own gain—but in the dark days ahead, it was his trust in the goodness of man that helped maintain American optimism.
In the first year of his presidency, his leadership would be tested when terrorists threatened to detonate a nuclear bomb in the oft-targeted city of Los Angeles. When the terrorists were revealed as Islamic radicals, Palmer urged the American people not to turn to bigotry and blame all Muslims for the crimes of a few. This nuclear threat was the first true test of his leadership, and he proved himself decisive (authorizing CTU to bring the terrorists to justice) but never a loose cannon. When it became clear that three Middle Eastern countries implicated in the attack had actually been falsely blamed, he resisted his more hawkish advisors and called off a military strike, even though that move resulted in him being temporarily removed from office via a no-confidence vote from his Cabinet under the 25th Amendment. And when he was proven right and restored to office, he did not accept nor demand the resignations of the Cabinet members who voted against him.
For sheer bravery, President Palmer cannot be underestimated. Three years into his presidency, he faced a second assassination attempt—this time with a biological agent—and still forged ahead with his reelection plans. He valued his own life less than his ability to serve the American people. And if that ability to serve were ever compromised, he would walk away gracefully. That’s just what he did when his ex-wife Sherry was killed following her own murder of one of his biggest re-election supporters. Recognizing that his tumultuous family life had undermined his effectiveness as president, he ended his reelection bid—choosing to serve the country he loved in a different, non-political way.
But history had other plans, and a couple years later Palmer was brought back in to the Oval Office to provide critical support to Acting President Charles Logan during the terrorist attacks organized by Habib Marwan. Palmer’s assistance directly led to Marwan’s death, but, respecting the power of the office, he let Logan take the credit. It’s a particularly bitter twist of fate that it would be Logan himself who authorized the death of Palmer two years later, when the former President discovered Logan’s plot to wage illegal war against Russian separatists. After three attempts on his life, Palmer was finally killed. That his murderer, President Logan, would be his successor is truly an American tragedy, matched only by the tacky move of AllState Insurance to continue using Palmer’s likeness in their commercials following his death.
A groundbreaker, a role-model, but above all, a statesman, President David Palmer will never be forgotten so long as freedom resides in the heart of America. Alicia, are you still saying that Jed Bartlet has the greater record?
Alicia’s Rebuttal:Does President Bartlet have a better record? Pssh, no question, Christian. President Bartlet and President Palmer certainly have one thing in common: bravery. While Palmer's reasons for bravery were far more personal, President Bartlet regularly stood in the face of danger not only for his own life, but the lives of others. American lives. (Palmer isn't the only one that's been shot at!) He refused to let his personal troubles get in the way of governing the nation—even when that meant putting America above his health and well-being. When (one of the few instances where dissenters and fans alike can agree that President Bartlet erred in his ways) his diagnosis of relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis was made public, everyone believed Bartlet's time was up. But Bartlet knew his service was to the American people, not the conservatives on the right or media circus hoping to cut him off at the knees. He stood tall after realizing that what he'd done had tenuous legal standing—though it would help for you to remember that he earned nothing more than a censure.
Palmer, on the other hand, knowingly lied about his medical condition and pretended he was running the country when he was not. To say nothing of the time he lied to the L.A. chief of police in order to protect his ex-wife who was under investigation for murder. Murder! Palmer's lies were far more prevalent than Bartlet's. Really, Bartlet's visibility about his MS, and his subsequent perseverance were a two-fold blessing. First, it smashed perceived stereotypes that people with MS are incapable of things, and second, it showed Bartlet's commitment to honesty at all costs. Because for Bartlet, it wasn't about using his power to help his family or gain political ground, it was always about the honor and allegiance toward the American people.
Your mention of how "neat and tidy" all of Palmer's political woes were during his presidency are a shot against your own candidate! If we've learned anything from real and fake politics, it's that nothing ever ends neat and tidy. And President Bartlet didn't have a mythic legacy to fall back on: he had to work for his presidential keep. Hard. How great for Palmer that he could rest on the laurels of a collegiate basketball career! Bartlet was doing far more than beating DePaul in overtime; he invested in his own education—you know, that thing that made him a Nobel Prize winner (yeah, remember that)? How many of those does your guy have? Oh, none? OK. President Bartlet realized, through his own, that education should not be made available only to those with easy means with which to gain it—physical prowess, money, legacy. Rather, it should be available to all. That's why Bartlet always made education a priority, including championing Toby Ziegler's education plan to help middle class families afford college tuition prices. President Bartlet knew education was (and is!) the backbone for a strong economy, and pushed for fairness. All while facing the political opposition of a Republican congress for his entire time in office. Sure, Palmer had a JD, but Bartlet had a Ph.D. and D.Hum.Litt. What did Palmer ever do for education and the betterment of this country's people?
What you call trust, I think many people would call recklessness—you yourself admitted that Sherry was able to undo Palmer—and in the end, she did! His life was always sensational, in the tabloid sense. From Palmer's son being seen as a murder suspect to his own wife's murderous shenanigans. I mean, really, his desire for political gain caused the murder of three people. How can you consider a man who has such poor judgment in his personal life to lead an entire country? Bartlet may have had an issue with the MS episode, but that was all. He believed that everything in his life should be focused on his civic duty. Because when you're the president, the expectations on you will always be more severe than on anyone else.
With great power comes great responsibility, eh? This never left Bartlet's mind. When his daughter was kidnapped during his second term, he temporarily relinquished office to the Republican Speaker of the House—even though many believed it would essentially kill his political career. Bartlet knew the best thing to do for the country was to have an unbiased, unaffected person holding power. He was not worried about legacy, only the country. He always believed in the greater good of man: not just for military or political gain. For Palmer, all of his eggs were laid in the Jack Bauer basket. Bartlet had faith in a whole team: a team that was intelligent, filled with best-in-their-class thought leaders and achievers.
Being good at military service isn't the only aspect of a presidency, though that's not to say that Bartlet wasn't courageous in making the hard decisions. He may not have been a Marine, but his deft handling of the multitude of Situation Room crises show he was no military slouch! I imagine this would be the easy way for you to try and make your candidate look superior, but it won't work. Bartlet was forced to make a deadly decision when the terrorist plot of a diplomat was uncovered. He stopped an attack against the U.S. In the end, assassinating Abdul Sharif, the Defense Minister of Qumar was the hard but right decision. No one is mad that President Obama killed Osama Bin Laden, right? And while sending troops to a peacekeeping mission between Israel and Palestine was also a hard choice, it was ultimately the right one to do something that, in the end, will bring far greater peace to the world. Bartlet cast a wide net because he understood how much more was at play at any given time. Heroic comes to mind. Plus, Bartlet is the president that keeps on giving. Do you see President Palmer being asked to give advice to real-life President Barack Obama twice? No, his legacy is used to shill for an insurance company.
And, lest you think that Bartlet was all action with no flair, allow me to prove you wrong while also proving his incredible compassion. President Bartlet's speech at the end of the episode "20 Hours in America" was nothing more than a masterstroke, delivered with incredible precision and real empathy for humanity. After a bombing at Kennison State shakes America to its core, President Bartlet was the calming, eloquent beacon of a man who at times felt super-human in his abilities.
"More than any time in recent history, America's destiny is not of our own choosing. We did not seek nor did we provoke an assault on our freedom and our way of life. We did not expect nor did we invite a confrontation with evil. Yet the true measure of a people's strength is how they rise to master that moment when it does arrive. 44 people were killed a couple of hours ago at Kennison State University. Three swimmers from the men's team were killed and two others are in critical condition when, after having heard the explosion from their practice facility, they ran into the fire to help get people out. Ran into the fire. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels tonight. They're our students and our teachers and our parents and our friends. The streets of heaven are too crowded with angels, but every time we think we have measured our capacity to meet a challenge, we look up and we're reminded that that capacity may well be limitless. This is a time for American heroes. We will do what is hard. We will achieve what is great. This is a time for American heroes, and we reach for the stars. God bless their memory, God bless you and God bless the United State of America. Thank you."
I mean, need I say more?
Christian’s Rebuttal:Palmer has his flaws for sure, but even when he made a mistake—like lying to the L.A. police chief about his ex-wife Sherry’s involvement in his campaign supporter’s murder—he took steps to correct it. In that case, he terminated his reelection bid. That’s hardly indicative of a “desire for political gain” at the expense of the country. And if transparency is important for an administration, Palmer certainly gets the highest marks. Yes, his family is dysfunctional, and his son was indeed implicated as a murder suspect. But rather than take Sherry’s advice and cover up the evidence, he gave a speech leveling with the American people about the allegations against his son and that he stood by him.
Palmer didn’t run from adversity in his personal life, nor did he in his professional life. Even when he was nearly assassinated with a biological agent—an incident broadcast on television and impossible to cover up, as you allege—he designated his VP to be the “Acting President” in his stead, much like Bartlet did during his daughter’s kidnapping crisis. On the other hand, Bartlet tried to conceal his multiple sclerosis from the nation for an astonishingly long period of time, indicating that he did suspect people would doubt his efficacy as president. Did he even doubt his ability himself? And I’m not so certain that his actions would be inspiring to people with MS. (Hide your condition from the world!)
Even with all the tumult in Palmer’s life, he never wavered in his leadership. Did Bartlet have to face three assassination attempts, a thwarted coup d’état against his administration, the possibility of a nuclear bomb destroying an American city, and a bioweapon attack? The greatest threat Bartlet had to deal with during his administration was half a world away in Qumar. Would he have been able to deal with terror in America itself on the scale that Palmer faced? I’m sure Bartlet would have had a rousing address ready to bolster the nation, but words don’t mean nearly as much as actions. And most of Bartlet’s most beautiful prose can be credited to communications director Toby Ziegler, and apparently a really great speech writer behind the scenes. (I’ve heard some guy named Aaron Sorkin.) Palmer might not have been a wordsmith, but he knew that executing policy is more important than waxing poetic with beautiful platitudes. If he didn’t have an education plan like Bartlet’s, it’s because he was too busy keeping us safe.
Alicia’s Closing Argument:In the end, the American people don't want a figurehead, like Palmer. They want a man of action—and President Bartlet is that man. President Palmer wasn't the only President to deal with the things you discuss, yet somehow you feel it makes Palmer a better man for the job: why? Because he didn't use words as effectively as Bartlet? President Bartlet survived multiple threats against America, a near-nuclear disaster in California, the threat of war, an economic downturn, a biological agent attack, a kidnapping, a shooting, and a disease, and still managed to run the country exceptionally well. Bartlet didn't use the chaos around him as an excuse to not also create plans, budgets, and laws to grow this country—he was not of the one-track-mind that Palmer had. As president, you can't be too busy to do all the parts of your job. In the end, President Bartlet was a man everyone could believe in, a president that America needed even in times when others may not have appreciated him (though he did win reelection, after the MS story broke, mind you, in a landslide). If American wants to know who the greatest television president is, look no further than Josiah "Jed" Bartlet. Bartlet for America! Put that on your napkin and frame it!
Christian’s Closing Argument:If I were to cave in and play the politics of fear, I’d merely ask, “Who do you trust to keep you safe: The guy with the fancy words or the guy with the record?” But that wouldn’t be David Palmer’s style. It’s hard to imagine a president since FDR who’s had more to face, and yet Palmer never let the traumas that occurred during his presidency fundamentally change him—or the nation he had sworn to protect and serve. He was a War on Terror president who refused to be terrorized. And that’s why he gets my vote, now and forever.
[Photo Credit: FOX (2); NBC (2)]
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