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Jessica Lange's Triple Crown 

"This article sums up why Jessica Lange is one of the best actresses ever to grace the screen. " - heikoS

 "Still think her two best performances are Men Don't Leave and Music Box. So disappointed in her Ryan Murphy collaborations." -Charlie G

 "Lange and Streep were born in the same year, won Oscars in the same year, and their immense talent has carried them through" -Jono

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Monday
Sep292014

Watson & Lerman: Our wallflowers are making news

Manuel here to bring you some news on your favorite wallflowers.

Sam, otherwise known as Emma Watson, she of amazing feminist speeches at the UN, has been cast alongside Daniel Brühl in the Chilean set Colonia. I was worried there'd been some white-washing here but as it turns out Emma and Daniel are playing a German couple that gets embroiled in the violence and political unrest of the 1973 military coup. The film is directed by Florian Gallenberger (an Academy Award winner for Best Live Action Short) and has begun shooting in Luxembourg.

Charlie, aka Logan Lerman is about to be everywhere as Fury, that Brad Pitt-fronted World War II tank movie revs up its promotional machine. The film released a couple of character posters although the term is a misnomer since everyone but Brad gets to share their poster. That said, all of the posters look gorgeous, as if they were all advertisements for some military-inspired fashion spread.

(Oh, and I couldn't mention both these wallflowers without pointing you to Ezra Miller's new band's music video).

I love checking up on old co-stars as in my head each film is a bit like a graduating class. As Perks alumni go, this trio seems to be doing quite well for themselves, no? Are you excited for Emma’s movie, a clear step in the right direction as she grows into more adult roles? Are you not exhausted enough by war dramas to follow Pitt and Lerman into the testosterone-heavy Fury?

Monday
Sep292014

Fun Fact: Celebrities Spend Way More Time Promoting Movies Then Making Them

Case Study #215,031. Cate Blanchett still on the Blue Jasmine tour 15 months after the US premiere with a screening at the Zurich Film Festival this week. 

(Remember how satisfying it was when she won the Oscar in March? Easily the most deserving Best Actress win in at least a decade.)

Sunday
Sep282014

Denzel Still Rules The (Box Office) World. But Why No Artistic Risks?

Is there any movie star more consistent than Denzel? Pro: No matter what he makes, it opens big. Con: Maybe that's because he's just not a risk taker. He may be our least adventurous megastar.

TOP O' THE BOX OFFICE
1 EQUALIZER $35 million NEW
2 MAZE RUNNER $17.5 (cum. $58) Review
3 BOXTROLLS $17.2 million NEW best animation studio right now

On the stage he only appears in time-tested prestige pieces (Raisin in the Sun and August Wilson or Shakespeare plays). Onscreen he only makes two kinds of movies: disposable action thriller flicks & would-be prestige dramas. The Equalizer, adapted from a television series, is obviously one of the former. People won't remember he made it in a couple of years as a newer model surfaces to replace it. 

Washington hasn't altered this pattern in twenty years -- take a look for yourself if you don't believe me -- unless you count his curiousity about directing (both of his efforts were pitched towards awards gold but neither The Great Debaters nor Antwone Fisher won Oscar nominations). In the first decade or so of his stardom things were a teensy-bit rangier since the prestige pieces were sometimes full-fledged costume dramas (he doesn't do those anymore really) and the mainstream flicks were sometimes romantic (nix on that, too, nowadays). There were even one or two comedies (gasp)!

It'd be nice if he got the balance better. Many major stars try the '1 for them, 1 for me' approach to maintain both audience favor and critical ardor. But it's easy intead to imagine that Denzel Washington's preferred pattern of '5 for them, 1 for Oscar' might actually be a result of 'all for me'; maybe he just has extremely limited taste in movies? It wouldn't be the first time a bonafide superstar had no interest in cinema as art

Viola and Denzel in their 2010 Tony winning roles. The following year Viola won box office gold with The Help. But still no film version of FENCES.

Still as he tops the charts yet again with another violent man-fantasy, one wishes he would use his clout for good. Why isn't he using that financial and creative muscle to push important work to the screen? Couldn't he at least do the right thing in a completely self-serving way? Why not try for a third Oscar for Fences? Supposedly he's going to direct and star in it but things never seem to get moving towards actual filming and there've been rumors that he's doing it for roughly, oh, ever. Denzel and Viola Davis, his original co-star, who has more than earned another big screen big opportunity lead role after the box office / awards success of The Help, both won Tonys on stage. What's more it's positively insane that nobody ever adapts August Wilson's plays for the big screen. Viola has starred in three of them on Broadway, winning two Tonys in the process. Why isn't this a primary mission for the actor to get at least a few of them on the big screen - preferrably with Viola starring - since he has more money than God, they're important works in African American history, and he also produces now?! 

Denzel could get Fences done quickly if that's what he really cared about getting done. There is no way that the money wouldn't be there immediately if he said "sure I'll do that action movie. But Fences is what I'm doing next. And until I do it no more waving guns around for you!" There is nobody who isn't an idiot in Hollywood who would say no to helping him get it done with gazillions for more gunplay on the line the following fiscal year.

But back to the now ~ What did you see this weekend?

Sunday
Sep282014

NYFF: Whiplash: The Passion of the Drummer

The NYFF coverage continues. Here's Michael on Oscar buzzing Whiplash...
 

Terence Fletcher is a notoriously demanding music teacher whose go-to story is about how Charlie Parker got a cymbal thrown at him by drumming great Jo Jones when Parker choked onstage at a jazz club as a teenager. To hear Fletcher tell it, that public humiliation was the impetus for Parker to dedicate himself to his craft and become the jazz legend known forever as Bird. Knowing this about Fletcher, it’s little surprise that freshman Andrew Neyman’s gets a metal chair thrown at his head for the crime of being off tempo on his first day on drums as a member of Fletcher’s elite studio band. 

To be clear, that’s thrown at his head, not near his head. Damien Chazelle’s blistering Sundance smash Whiplash makes it clear that this is not the story of a hard-assed but wise teacher who applies tough love to coax the best out of his students. Fletcher’s behavior crosses the line quickly and often. His “lessons” are often little more than playing interrupted by slurs, slaps, and cruel mind games. It’s as if he learned how to teach by watching Alec Baldwin’s Glengarry monologue on a loop. 

To Fletcher, there is no such thing as too far, because any student capable of greatness needs someone like him to test his or her mettle against. [more...]

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Sep282014

Yes No Maybe So: "blackhat"

It's a challenge to keep up but better late than never, right? What do you make of blackhat in trailer form? It looks like another robust thriller from the (Michael) Mann. The movie is due in mid January and should provide nice counterprogramming to the two diammetrically opposed types of movies that tend to play in that month: studio prestige movies aiming for Oscars vs. mainstream studio dumping ground movies that they know aren't strong enough to compete for holiday or summer dollars.

Let's take a look through our Yes No Maybe So prism. And the first yes is obviously diversity in casting!

YES

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Sep282014

NYFF: At Odds Over 'Two Shots Fired' and 'La Sapienza'

The New York Film Festival has started, and here is Glenn on a pair of films from Argentina and Italy, 'Two Shots Fired' and 'La Sapienza'.

As film lovers, and especially as film critics, we like to think we view films from a purely neutral place without bias or prejudice. That feeling of going into any film with a blank slate of emotions, taking films on a case by case basis where there’s the possibility of liking literally anything that gets thrown our way. It’s a nice sentiment, but it’s as far from the truth as you could get. Whether it’s an actor or a director, a genre or even a region, sometimes there are things we just do not like or respond to as viewers. I freely admit to there being many personalities whose presence in front or behind a camera I find a struggle and while the the quality of the material they have to work with can fluctuate, sometimes you just have to admit that somebody or something is not for you.

Such was the case after seeing Two Shots Fired and La Sapienza, two films with seemingly little in common. The Argentinian and Italians films do share, however, a style. This certain storytelling aesthetic that aims for faintly quirky, film’s that trade in an excessively dry, often tangential, random humor that is delivered in monotone voices by a cast that sound more like they’re doing a table-read for a badly scripted soap opera. The actors’ robotic body movements suggest a disconnect between character and emotion, but which ultimately does more to distance the viewer from the film than anything else. When a character gets to express actual emotions in the same way a real human would it’s positively elating.

In Martín Rejtman’s Two Shots Fired, I liked a late-in-the-runtime turn of events that sees the return of a character who disappeared after the opening sequence. Sadly it goes nowhere as characters shrug it off and carry on with their lives as if the entire enterprise was for nothing. Eugéne Green’s La Sapienza has more virtues, which make its weaknesses even more disappointing. Its photography is suitably lush and the many, many shots of beautiful Italian architecture are gorgeous to behold, but the story that runs around them is like slowly watching life be drained out of a painting. Such rich possibilities are never taken advantage of.

 Both films’ arch sensibilities kept me at arm’s length from engaging with them in any way. They sit in between stylistic minimalism or flamboyant visual expressiveness, utilizing none of the virtues of either. I had similar issues with Greek “weird wave” titles like Dogtooth and Attenberg, but found much more of interest in their stories and visual storytelling to still be more or less on side despite other quibbles. I found the Argentinian and Italian films incredibly hard to latch on to; this emotional coolness (or detachment, whatever you like to consider it) leaving no hook for me to hang on to. Given how few notes are in their registers, if you don’t ‘get’ them from the start you’ll be at a loss for the duration.

Two Shots Fired screens on Monday Sep 29 (8.45pm) and Tuesday Sep 30 (3pm).
La Sapienza screens on Saturday Sep 27 (3pm) and Sunday Sep 28 (12.15pm).

Saturday
Sep272014

NYFF: J.K. Simmons Holds Court, Boosts Supporting Actor Bid

"I guess I was a professional musician. I got paid tens of dollars," J.K. Simmons shrugged, getting the first of many big laughs at the press conference for Damien Chazelle's Whiplash. He was being grilled about his music background (he studied classical music in college) and what he brought to his big big role in this crowdpleasing drama. Whiplash is about the sweaty bloody foul-mouthed, humiliating and combative relationship of Andrew, a talented drummer (Miles Teller) and his sadistic mentor, Professor Fletcher (Simmons).

The movie is muscularly directed by Chazelle, like he's got as much to prove as Andrew (he'll direct another music related film next) and edited for maximum razzle-dazzle as if syncopated to the double time jazz rhythm -- or any other rhythm, really, that Fletcher demands during grueling rehearsals. Often stopping the action to scream "Not my tempo!" 

Whiplash than sometimes gives off the illusion that it's directed from within, as if the film is continually queued by, responding to, or enraged at Fletcher's barked orders, precise time signature hand movements, and threatening in-your-face closeups. The illusion than is that Professor Fletcher is demanding the movie conform to him, rather than the movie inviting him to be its antagonist.  

At the press conference the 59 year old actor was also the star of the show. In this case he had no competition for the spotlight. Miles Teller wasn't there and the film's young director was stuck in traffic allowing J.K. the bulk of the press conference to himself. Though his face is familiar from a long career of well received supporting roles he doesn't usually get this much of the screen (or stage as it were) all to himself. He took the opportunity to keep the press laughing, faux-mock his young co-star for being too busy "working" to be there with him, and for not making the short with him which was used to raise interest and funding for the movie (the short, which was a huge hit at Sundance in 2013, co-starred Johnny Simmons, no relation, who J.K. complimented adding that his take on the Andrew character was much different than Teller's work). J.K. reserved most of the good-natured teasing for his director who he continually referred to as an "adolescent" or "child". When the 29 year old director arrived toward the end of the event, and the questions began to flow his way, Simmons burst out laughing when a reporter began his question with the formal "Mister Chazelle..." 

A true scene stealer, that J.K. Simmons.

J.K., Damien, and Miles on set

It was deeply moving for me to work with musicians of that calibre and relive that part of my youth after having taken so many left turns in my career. It was really fun to work with musicians every day at work and/or scream at people which are two of my favorite things."

But for all his joking he managed to slip in thoughtful responses to questions, emotional hooks, and admitting that he wasn't sure how to unpack some of the provocative questions the movie raises about teaching and pushing people to greatness. This juggling act should serve him well in the quest for Oscar gold. The crowd was stunned to hear that they shot this tense intimate movie in just 19 days, a tiny blip in the amount of time they've spent promoting it since. As you'll recall the film premiered to rapturous response at Sundance 2014 and finally hits theaters in select cities on October 10th. Count on J.K. Simmons to spend the first two months of 2015 on red carpets and with cameras trained tightly to his face on Oscar night.