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.
Ravetch and his wife Harriet Frank teamed up to pen the screenplays of Hud and Norma Rae, which won them Oscars in 1963 and 1979, respectively.
The couple co-wrote 20 films, including classics like Hombre, The Reivers, The Long Hot Summer and The Cowboys.
Ravetch/Frank-written films also contributed to Academy Award wins for Sally Field (Norma Rae) and Patricia Neal (Hud) for Best Actress and Supporting Actress, respectively. Three of their films starred the late Paul Newman - Hud, Hombre and The Long Hot Summer.
Ravetch was born in 1920 in New Jersey. His wife and collaborator is still alive.
Baseball doesn’t hold quite the same magic as it once did. That’s why they had to set Everyone's Hero in the Depression-era when the New York Yankees ruled the game and their star player Babe Ruth sat on the throne. As the story goes a young boy named Yankee Irving (Jake T. Austin) has to save his dad’s job as a janitor at Yankee Stadium after Ruth’s beloved bat is stolen by the big bad Chicago Cubs owner (Robin Williams) and his lackey (William H. Macy) right before the World Series. Yankee’s dad is blamed for the theft so the kid obsessed with the Babe and doesn’t want his family living in the streets sets out on an adventure to get the bat back. He has some help chiefly from an old forgotten baseball (Rob Reiner) —who was once in the Show but got hit out of the park as a lousy foul ball—and the bat itself nicknamed Darlin’ (Whoopi Goldberg) who sasses her way through the shenanigans. Warms your heart already doesn’t it? It seems everyone’s having a good time. Reiner is particularly cantankerous as Screwie voicing the baseball as if he was an old Jewish man yelling at the kids on the street for making too much noise. Not a whole lot to like about the character but he provides comic foil especially with Goldberg as the pampered bat who knows how kind the real Babe is. For some odd reason Williams is un-credited as the blowhard Cubs owner Napoleon Cross but it’s not too hard to pick out his distinctive voice. Maybe the actor didn’t want to be labeled a bad guy. But Macy is sufficiently wacky as Cross’ henchman and Cubs pitcher Lefty McGinnis who has all manner of bad things happen to him--electrocuted hit by a train you get the picture—as he chases after the kid and the bat. In retrospect slamming a movie co-directed by the late Christopher Reeve as a pet project for his young son (with wife Dana Reeve who died of lung cancer earlier this year providing the voice of Yankee’s mom) seems a tad coldhearted. But unfortunately even with all the heart soul--and apparently lots of time--poured into it Everyone's Hero still comes off as bland and overdone. There’s the same hackneyed dialogue filled with the same feel-good messages (“Have faith in yourself!” “Friends stick together!”) and the same insipid pop tunes peppered throughout. It may have been more interesting if the whole story were told from the baseball’s point of view. How about if ALL the equipment talked--the mitts the bases et. al.--and we saw the game through their eyes? Not bad eh? If only this had been my brain child...
Picture a very mainstream group of New Yorkers who don't necessarily know each other but are all on the quest for something bigger than themselves. They are people who pass one another in busy streets; they are co-workers; they are strangers. They are Everyman and Everywoman who seemingly manage their lives well at first glance but are actually balancing personal acceptance and rejection at every turn. Of the 13 individuals we meet Walker (John Turturro) and Patricia (Amy Irving) are a married couple trying to be in love without talking about it; Troy (Matthew McConaughey) is a morality-centered lawyer until he drives home drunk; and Gene (Alan Arkin) is a hardworking salesman whose climb up the corporate ladder negatively affects his familial relationships. Each individual is at a crossroads; they all must determine their worth based on their core values. Their stories are unique yet universal as they embark upon the soul-wrenching question "if only."
While Matthew McConaughey adds the big-name lure to the film don't expect him to be the star of the show. Since there are so many stories being told each of the actors gets a fair amount of screen time. McConaughey (Troy) does deliver a quality performance however. His educated ambitious character fits the handsome actor who frighteningly reveals his tragic side when he fails to practice what he preaches. Kudos to Clea Duvall (Beatrice) the young housecleaner who makes dusting seem like a fairy's art. She is gentle and natural on-screen leading her co-worker (and the audience) to believe in an ideal world--until both bone-breaking and heart-breaking experiences leave her bitter. John Turturro's obsessive-compulsive introvert is shifty and irritating in a successful way--he's perfect as the nerdy genius who just can't hold on to a good thing. Alan Arkin (Gene) certainly holds his own as the grump who believes happiness is a curse but it is only William Wise (Wade) whose eternal optimism shines alone foiling every other character in the film. His silly smile is unbelievable at first then it turns into something refreshingly sincere.
This is the second film Jill Sprecher has directed and co-written with her sister Karen Sprecher. Non-linear the film weaves in and out of various storylines allowing the audience to peek into pivotal moments of individuals' lives. Similar techniques have been implemented in films like Traffic Magnolia and Pulp Fiction. The film is also broken up into chapter-like sections; each could stand on its own becoming like a movie within a movie. The chapters are titled with phrases like "Wisdom comes suddenly " "Ignorance is bliss" and "Show me a happy man." Color and season also play intricately in this film. Dowdy green walls suffocate the couple in marital trouble (green is also the color of jealousy); dingy brown and yellow office furniture reminds us Gene's office is a depressing place to spend a bustling New York day; and moments of pure joy are attached to the white shirt the autumn wind blows from Beatrice's arms.
A bounty of buzz-heavy, star-studded new releases will kick off the countdown to Christmas this year, promising something different and special each day of the week.
The holiday movie bonanza commences Tuesday with the limited release of Sony's "Girl, Interrupted." Adapted from Susanna Kaysen's critically acclaimed memoir, the film stars Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie as two iconoclastic young women confined to a mental institution.
Lifting the box office spirit Wednesday are three wildly anticipated films of different ilk. Taking care of the laugh department is director Milos Forman's "Man on the Moon," where funnyman Jim Carrey plays funnyman Andy Kaufman.
For those lamenting the absence of televised sports programming on Christmas, there's Oliver Stone's adrenaline-racing, testosterone-pumping "Any Given Sunday," a homage to the gritty underside of football starring Al Pacino, Dennis Quaid and Cameron Diaz.
And for the romantically inclined, check out "Snow Falling on Cedars," an entangled tale of past love and lingering emotion set in the Pacific Northwest starring Ethan Hawke and directed by Scott Hicks ("Shine").
Christmas Day will see two new wide releases: DreamWorks' family friendly comedy "Galaxy Quest" with Tim Allen playing a passe TV actor enlisted to fight aliens in real life and Paramount's much-lauded "The Talented Mr. Ripley." In the Patricia Highsmith adaptation, Matt Damon plays a gay man hired to track down wayward playboy Jude Law in Italy and ends up assuming his life.
The big names don't stop there, though. Making their debut in limited engagements are three potential award winners and potential hits for the year 2000. They are Paramount's "Angela's Ashes," Buena Vista's buddy boxing flick "Play It to the Bone" with Antonio Banderas and Woody Harrelson and Fox Searhlight's ensemble drama "Titus" starring Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange.
Here's a complete list of this week's releases.
Opening Tuesday, Dec. 21
"Girl, Interrupted" (Sony) -- "Copland" director James Mangold adapts Susanna Kaysen's best-selling autobiographical novel to the big screen. Based on the author's brief confinement to a psychiatric ward during her teens, the film follows the troubled detainee portrayed by Winona Ryder as the line between sanity and madness disintegrates. Angelina Jolie co-stars as a fellow patient.
Opening Wednesday, Dec. 22
"Any Given Sunday" (Warners) -- Al Pacino plays a head football coach facing the worst season of his career. With record losses and plunging attendance, his future with the Miami Sharks is further jeopardized by the injury of his aging star quarterback played by Dennis Quaid. Under pressure to win at any cost, the veteran struggles to maintain his integrity on and off the sidelines.
"Man on the Moon" -- (Universal) "The People vs. Larry Flynt" director Milos Forman returns with a biopic on late comedian Andy Kaufman, best known for his role in "Taxi." Jim Carrey stars as the versatile comedian as the film traces various stages in Kaufman's career. Danny DeVito co-stars as his longtime manager, and Courtney Love plays his girlfriend.
"Snow Falling on Cedars" (Universal) -- "Shine" director Scott Hicks returns with a tale of intrigue and love set in 1954 on an island in the Pacific Northwest. Ethan Hawke stars as a reporter assigned to cover the trial of a Japanese man accused of the murder of a local fisherman. Youki Kudoh co-stars as Hawke's childhood flame and the wife of the accused (Rick Yune). Based on the best seller by David Guterson.
"Onegin" (Samuel Goldwyn) -- Set in 1820s Russia, Ralph Fiennes stars as a dashing aristocrat who's brought to the countryside through his inheritance of a large estate. There, he acquaints a doting young woman (Liv Tyler) whose love he refuses. Six years later, the two meet again on vastly different terms -- he's fallen obsessively in love with Tyler while she's comfortably married to another man.
"42 Up" (First Run) -- In 1964, filmmaker Michael Apted began his marathon documentary series about the lives of a group of 7-year-olds in England, each from radically different socioeconomic backgrounds. Since then, the director has continued to chronicle the ups and downs of his subjects at 7-year intervals. The sixth installment is the latest update on these people at the crossroad of the big 42.
Opening Friday, Dec. 24
"Pink Narcissus" (Strand) -- First released in 1971, this erotic phantasmagoria returns to the screen with all its campy outrageousness intact. The cult classic follows a beautiful young man, played by Bobby Kendall, as he journeys through a series of sexual fantasies with total abandon. Throughout the experience, the youth is plagued by one great fear -- growing old and losing his looks.
Opening Saturday, Dec. 25
"Galaxy Quest" (DreamWorks) -- Tim Allen plays an over-the-hill television star in this spaced out comedy. He finds himself responsible for the fate of the planet when too-eager aliens mistake the erstwhile actor and his peers as the "Captain Peter Quincy Taggart" starship crew. Now the reluctant actors must go into space for an intergalactic showdown. Sigourney Weaver co-stars.
"The Talented Mr. Ripley" (Paramount) -- Based on the acclaimed novel by Patricia Highsmith, Matt Damon stars as the gay, chameleon-like Tom Ripley, who is commissioned to retrieve an errant playboy (Jude Law) from Italy. The simple errand turns deadly as Damon develops an unhealthy obsession with the expatriate and his girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow)."The English Patient" director Anthony Minghella writes and directs.
"Angela's Ashes" (Paramount) -- Adapted from Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, this film is a heartwarming document of the author's childhood in Ireland during the 1930s and '40s. Emily Watson ("Hilary & Jackie") and Robert Carlyle ("The Full Monty") co-star as Frank's working class parents. Directed by Alan Parker.
"Play It to the Bone" (Buena Vista) -- Out-of-work boxing rivals and friends (Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas) get the chance of a lifetime to work together in Las Vegas. Strapped for time, they hit the road with their friend (Lolita Davidovich) at the wheel. A riotous road trip ensues as the boxers scramble to make it to their big showdown.
"Titus" (Fox Searchlight) -- In this epic tale of revenge, Anthony Hopkins stars as Titus Andonicus, the Roman general who sows the seeds of vengeance when he executes the son of the enemy queen, played by Jessica Lange. The repercussions of his action are revealed when the vindictive woman becomes the new wife of the Roman emperor. Alan Cumming co-stars.
"The Cider House Rules" (Miramax) -- Directed by Lasse Hallstrom ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape") and adapted from John Irving's best-selling novel, this coming-of-age story casts Tobey Maguire as a young man who has spent his entire youth in an orphanage. Hungry for experience, he sets out to explore the world outside. Charlize Theron, Paul Rudd and Michael Caine co-star.
"Cradle Will Rock" (Buena Vista) -- Based on true events in the cultural and art scenes of 1930s New York City, this film follows various cultural workers -- including Mexican artist Diego Rivera, theater director Orson Welles and propagandist Margherita Sarfatti -- as they defend their artistic expressions in the face of political paranoia and government censorship. John Cusack, Bill Murray and Susan Sarandon co-star.
"Tumbleweeds" (Fine Line) -- Leaving an abusive boyfriend behind, single mother Janet McTeer and daughter Kimberly J. Brown head for the sunny suburbs of San Diego to start anew. Once again, McTeer swif ly enters into a destructive relationship and is tempted to look for an easy way out. However, her headstrong daughter, tired of her rootless existence, refuses to abandon her newly established life.
SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 9, 2000 -- Film nominations for the 52nd Annual Writers Guild Awards were handed down today, and, with few exceptions, the list was surprise-free.
The usual award-show suspects, including Golden Globe screenplay champ "American Beauty," were honored for their excellence in screenplays.
The most notable surprise nod was perhaps for Lewis Colick's adaptation for the critically lauded (but mostly overlooked) "October Sky."
One notable snub came in the form of "The Hurricane," which last month took University of Southern California's annual Scripter Award for best film adaptation. While a fast-starter on the buzz front, the movie has come under attack of late for flying fast and loose with the story of wrongly imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter.
The guild's East and West Coast voting bodies decided upon nominees. Like the Academy Awards, award hopefuls are split into two categories -- there's one for best original screenplay, one for best adaptation.
The Guild's TV and radio nominations were previously announced. Winners in all categories will be announced March 5 in dual ceremonies at New York's Plaza Hotel and the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Here's a complete look at the WGA's screenplay nominees:
BEST SCREENPLAY WRITTEN DIRECTLY FOR THE SCREEN
"American Beauty" Written by Alan Ball. (DreamWorks Pictures)
"Being John Malkovich" Written by Charlie Kaufman. (USA Films)
"Magnolia" Written by Paul Thomas Anderson. (New Line Cinema)
"The Sixth Sense" Written by M. Night Shyamalan. (Buena Vista Pictures)
"Three Kings" Screenplay by David O. Russell; story by John Ridley. (Warner Bros.)
BEST SCREENPLAY BASED ON MATERIAL PREVIOUSLY PRODUCED OR PUBLISHED
"The Cider House Rules" Screenplay by John Irving, based on his novel. (Miramax Films)
"Election" Screenplay by Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor, based on the novel by Tom Perrotta. (Paramount Pictures)
"The Insider" Written by Eric Roth & Michael Mann, based on the article "The Man Who Knew Too Much" by Marie Brenner. (Buena Vista Pictures)
"October Sky" Screenplay by Lewis Colick, based on the book "Rocket Boys" by Homer H. Hickam Jr. (Universal Pictures)
"The Talented Mr. Ripley" Screenplay by Anthony Minghella, based on the novel by Patricia Highsmith. (Paramount Pictures and Miramax Films)