In Contention signing off at HitFix

Posted by · 10:00 am · June 19th, 2015


In truth, I struggle with whether this is a necessary post. A long-winded “goodbye” seems a little egotistical. But I also recognize that there is a community here that does not deserve to be left in the dark. It's that community that figured heavily into HitFix's decision to partner with In Contention four years ago, and it's that community that I've grown to respect and appreciate as part of a conversation throughout all my years doing this – not just an audience being dictated to from a perch, but an engaged collective vital to the elixir of it all.

So let me fill you in on the news: This will be my, and In Contention's, last month as part of the HitFix family.

When we came here, HitFix was an evolving brand. It was a destination for broader audiences but, with various trade dabbling and acquisitions, it was also a great destination for industry readership. I liked that hybrid personality. It was fresh and exciting to me. When Greg Ellwood first bent my ear at a Telluride screening in 2011, I saw it as a unique opportunity to hitch my wagon to a young company forging a different path.

But philosophies shift. As such, HitFix has made a decision to move out of the awards business and focus on its consumer audience, while I've made a decision to seek out a more proper fit, where I can provide the best possible coverage of this sector going forward. I wish the talented and vibrant crew here the best, but it's time for me – for us – to move on.

Beyond that, there's nothing else to report. No lengthy look back at the evolution of film awards coverage. No navel-gazing about how we”ve figured into that quirky spectrum. No drawn-out considerations and heartfelt adieus. If that piece is in me somewhere, I don't think I'm quite ready to dredge it up. So let me just say that whatever happens next, I look forward to this community being there, ready to digest the art and craft of cinema, as well as the pomp and circumstance of the season that honors it with baubles and trinkets. We've come a long way. Maybe you'll want to go a little farther.

I'll be sure to let you know where we land. You can keep track of me at @kristapley on Twitter for that and all else. Thank you for being there. Thank you for reading. Thank you for engaging. In so many words, just that: thank you.


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Mark Ruffalo on the balancing act of playing a bipolar dad in 'Infinitely Polar Bear'

Posted by · 12:59 am · June 19th, 2015

In this business you can easily watch up to 200 films in a single year. It's therefore no surprise that it's already hard for this pundit to remember all the films I caught at the Cannes Film Festival, which was less than one month ago. Of course, that doesn't mean some films don't stick with you. One film that made a lasting impression with me over the past 18 months was Maya Forbes' “Infinitely Polar Bear.” The autobiographical drama debuted at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and is finally making its way to theaters this week.

Inspired by Forbes' relationship with her own bipolar father, the film centers on Cameron (Mark Ruffalo), a man trying to control his behavior after he unexpectedly becomes a de facto single parent to his two young daughters. Ruffalo has delivered many great performances over a storied career, but his work here is unlike anything he's ever done before.

Ruffalo, who has spent a good deal of time over the past year promoting “Foxcatcher” and a little movie called “Avengers: Age of Ultron” sat down with HitFix to talk about “Polar Bear,” which was filmed after Bennett Miller's Academy Award-nominated drama.

The two-time Oscar nominee says Forbes wanted the character to be authentic, but not a carbon copy of her own father. He notes, “She didn't say there was one particular thing that was important, but she wanted the essence of Cam, which I did, too.”

As for Cam's bipolar characteristics, Ruffalo confronted the dicey proposition of playing it truthfully without having the audience truly fear for the young girls' safety.

“I think you're doing a balancing act,” Ruffalo admits. “If you start a movie with him just completely zonk-bonkers, that will set the tone for the rest of the movie.”

For more on Ruffalo's thoughts on “Infinitely Polar Bear,” and whether he'll be making that rumored appearance in “Captain America: Civil War,” check out the video embedded at the top of this post.

“Infinitely Polar Bear” is now playing in New York and Los Angeles.

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A Perfect Shot: Vittorio Storaro on a warrior reborn in 'Apocalypse Now'

Posted by · 2:14 pm · June 17th, 2015

If you recognize the iconography of canonical cinema, then the image of a paint-smeared Martin Sheen rising with piercing, purpose-filled eyes from a South Asian bog is something you know well. It is – perhaps along with a fleet of UH-1 Hueys descending like Valkyries out of a tempest, or the haunting visage of Marlon Brando glaring through a penetrating beam of light – the most identifying image of Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 masterpiece “Apocalypse Now.” And like so many other frames within, it is one rife with psychological and thematic context.

“Francis told me, 'Vittorio, we have to find some specific idea here,'” cinematographer Vittorio Storaro – who won an Oscar for his work on the film – recalls. “'Until now, he was a soldier. Now he understands that in order to kill Kurtz, he must become Kurtz. He should put on [the war paint] we saw from the soldier on Brando when he kills the other guy. He should be part of the horror to understand the horror, and to kill the horror.'”

The two came up with the idea that the water would signify the “amniotic suck of nature,” and that Sheen's Capt. Benjamin L. Willard was reborn in that moment as a new man.

“I had the lighting on top because he was not reborn in a kind of gentle, smooth, passive way,” Storaro says. “He was reborn to be Kurtz, to be someone to eliminate the king, to become a king. Freud would say there is a moment when a child has to kill his own father to become a father, because otherwise, he would always be a child. So that was the concept, the psychology we put into the image. The water had to be the primary liquid, the primary, elemental life, and he should be reborn from the mother earth.”

Nothing particularly challenging comes to Storaro's mind when asked about the practical task of achieving the image. But in a gargantuan film shoot as chaotic as this one was, stories of hardship probably just blur together anyway. “Nothing is easy,” he says. “But nothing is necessarily difficult if you have the right idea.”

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Find out why 'The Secret Life of Pets' with Louis C.K. is next summer's smash hit

Posted by · 10:13 am · June 17th, 2015

Unless you've been living under a rock, it's hard not to recognize what an amazing year Universal Pictures is having. “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “Furious 7,” “Pitch Perfect 2” and “Jurassic World” have all performed beyond expectations with the latter knocking off “Marvel's The Avengers” for the biggest opening of all-time. What's even more remarkable is that the studio still has at least three more hits on the way this summer including Judd Apatow's “Trainwreck,” Seth McFarlane's “Ted 2” and “Minions.”  

That “Despicable Me” spin-off still has a shot at becoming one of the top grossing flicks of the summer as the bumbling characters who find themselves compelled to work for an evil mastermind continue to demonstrate worldwide appeal. Illumination, the brains behind the franchise, teased their next major project at CinemaCon earlier this year, and now you can finally see what got the nation's theater owners so excited.

The teaser for “The Secret Life of Pets” has something for everyone. If you love dogs you're covered. If you love cats you're slightly covered (although my only qualm is it would be nice to have a non-fat cat character). If you're a Brooklyn hipster who secretly loves animation or have a kid around 5 years old (hipsters are having kids, people), you're covered. The cast includes unexpected but welcome talent such as Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Ellie Kemper, Lake Bell, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress and Kevin Hart. Oh, and the teaser doesn't tell you this yet, but Hart is voicing a bunny. Throw that combo into the summer of 2016 and you can see why Universal is bullish that they have another smash and potential franchise on their hands.  

Check out the teaser embedded below.  Pretty adorable, no?

“The Secret Life of Pets” opens nationwide on July 8, 2016.


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More than just Pixar's best, 'Inside Out' is a new animation masterpiece

Posted by · 9:18 am · June 15th, 2015

“Inside Out” isn't just Pixar Animation Studios' best film to date, it's one of the best films of the 21st century. That's a big bite, I know, but that's where I was left after the emotional, mature, brilliantly examining and creative experience of the movie. It is the project that most completely reflects the studio's tenets of refined storytelling and entertainment, a mission statement so often repeated as to flirt with the platitudinous. Yet “Inside Out” reminds you how real it is, how powerful cinema can be and how profoundly it can explore, reflect and express the human condition. This is why we project images in dark rooms, to achieve heights such as these.

I could tell nearly a year ago, at a special footage presentation for the film in Los Angeles, that if “Inside Out” was going to be a success, it would be because of deep personal beginnings. Director Pete Docter (“Monsters, Inc.,” “Up”) confided at the time that witnessing his daughter's inevitable emotional shift as she veered toward adolescence left him, as a parent, mourning the loss of her joyful youth. He wanted to better understand the complexities of the emotions that were changing her, and the seeds of the film were born.

By now you're aware of the basic premise: the mind of Riley Anderson serves as the setting for the film. She's a young girl piloted by a quintet of central emotions: Anger (Lewis Black), who controls the valve of rage and justice; Disgust (Mindy Kaling), managing her tolerance for the undesirable; Fear (Bill Hader), keeping her out of danger; Sadness (Phyllis Smith), who despite being demure, has a pretty strong grip on Riley's sense of the world; and Joy (Amy Poehler), delighting in the day-to-day operation of creating and managing Riley's memories and particularly making pleasant new ones.

That's really just the set-up, though, for a whole wonderland Docter and his writers have concocted. You can really sense the director's journey through this film in understanding his daughter better. You're able to witness an artist using the tools at his disposal to connect with something in his life, and that's what makes it so utterly powerful. I was a blubbering mess when the credits rolled, and not because of anything so simplistic as sadness or just generally being moved. It was how expertly and empathetically the story examined its central character. The title could not be more apt. This is an experience of revelation, in no uncertain terms – and they made it look easy!

Now, this is also the kind of film that should (keyword) benefit by a move to an expanded Best Picture field. But since the 2009 Oscars paradigm shift, outside of “Up” and “Toy Story 3” – two of Pixar's absolute finest achievements – no other animated feature has managed the feat. I imagine Disney will be hopeful as ever, though, because to be fair, nothing that couldn't easily be ghettoized in the Academy's animation-specific category has announced itself in the Oscar fray like this in a few years.

But here's what I propose. Let's finally break that barrier for directors, too. If filmmakers are honest with themselves, they'll understand that “Inside Out” is as definitive a directorial accomplishment as you're likely to see. The Pixar trust, of course – the story group and collective of hard-working artists within – might serve as the “auteur” for these works, but with films like “Monsters, Inc.” and “Up,” Docter has proved himself perhaps the most talented asset in the company. His work simply transcends in how it relates to audiences, and every new achievement has been as exceptional if not more so than the last. His credentials speak for themselves, and “Inside Out” is a showcase beyond them.

So, while the usual conversations will rightly be had around the Best Original Screenplay and Best Picture categories, let's be serious. This is what a masterpiece looks like.

“Inside Out” opens June 19.

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Looking back on the Oscar-winning designs of 'Dick Tracy' 25 years later

Posted by · 8:00 pm · June 14th, 2015

Long before the comic book boom of the 21st Century, Hollywood's handling of heroes drawn from the funny pages was a touch and go enterprise. More at home in the serials era of the 40s and 50s, that iconography leaked out onto the big screen in only drips and drabs, a “Superman” here, a “Batman” there. And indeed, a year after Tim Burton brought the latter to unique Gothic heights in 1989, Warren Beatty brought another flesh and blood crime fighter to the big screen with bold expressionistic strokes.

Today, “Dick Tracy” stands out as a hand-crafted wonder. Beatty's team was jammed with talent, and it needed to be, for this was an exercise in placing the viewer in a world only slightly familiar. Its extremes – and there were many – were a direct extension of design techniques and flourishes. The film was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design and Best Makeup in the design realm. It won for art direction and makeup (along with Best Original Song), and it's easy to see why.

Now, 25 years later, makeup designer John Caglione Jr. can only perceive it as a dream job. His and partner Doug Drexler's efforts were, like all design efforts on the film, derived from the original drawings of creator Chester Gould. “That was kind of my Bible, to just interpret those beautiful drawings of Pruneface and Flattop,” he says, calling from New York where he's currently working on the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” sequel. “My job was to try to fit it into a world where, you know, Flattop could stand next to Warren and not look like a cartoon character from Disneyland. It was kind of like a half a turn of the screw into fantasy.”

Keeping an eye on that flirtation with reality was really the entire dance of the project. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, by then already a three-time Oscar winner for films like “Apocalypse Now,” “The Last Emperor” and Beatty's own “Reds,” says he took inspiration from post-expressionist painters like Otto Dix, George Grosz and Conrad Felix Mueller, whose imagery felt touched by the extremes of the expressionist era, yet clawed their way into the light of realism. But that was just one aesthetic nuance. The project on the whole, he says, needed to have a generally expressionist vision. And he had a bold concept in mind.

“My idea was we should use primary colors that were completely against another primary color,” he says, calling from his home in Rome. “We didn't need any subtly, any penumbra. We needed something very straight. So red had to be against cyan. Magenta had to be against green. Yellow had to be against blue. We had to create a world where the color spectrum is divided.”

He first presented the idea in a meeting with Beatty, costume designer Milena Canonero (last year's Oscar winner for “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) and production designer Dean Tavoularis, who was originally set to work on the film before being whisked away for longtime collaborator Francis Ford Coppola's “New York Stories” segment. And his colleagues loved it.

“The good side would be red, connected with The Kid, because it's the first color on the spectrum,” Storaro explains. “Orange would be the color of female, connected with Tess. And yellow could be connected with Dick Tracy. Yellow is the color of the sun, the one who is going to light the darkness. On the other side we have Fletcher, the judge, which is green – which is in the middle [of the spectrum]; sometimes he's on the good side, sometimes he's on the bad side. Blue had to be the opposite of the complimentary of Dick Tracy, which is 'Big Boy' Caprice. So when we put them together, they have to be the complete opposite. And Breathless had to belong at the end of the color spectrum. That was the principle idea.”

When you look at the film with this concept in mind, it leaps out at you. There are very few tonalities of color used even within that, making for a direct, uncluttered visual presentation of the broader themes of the film.

Meanwhile, back in the makeup chair, Caglione and company were hard at work in the pre-silicon era. It was a serendipitous arrangement for him, as the late Richard Sylbert – Beatty's production designer on “Reds” who took over when Tavoularis could not continue – was instrumental in getting the New York-based designer the gig. Caglione (who was also Oscar-nominated for “The Dark Knight”) had done special makeup effects on “The Cotton Club” and met Sylbert and Canonero on that project.

“So the first thing I did [on 'Dick Tracy'] was get with Richard and see what he was creating in that universe,” Caglione says. “And then I would try to fit into that world.”

While the Gould drawings were inspiration for all of the iconic villains – Little Face, Flattop, Mumbles, Pruneface, etc. – the character of “Big Boy” Caprice was a playground for invention. Caglione particularly notes actor Al Pacino's enthusiasm for getting under the makeup and using it to help him define the role.

“We made a whole bunch of generic pieces, for crowds and background villains and things,” Caglione says. “We had this stock of prosthetics. And when Al came on the picture, he just wanted to try them on. Part of Al's process is to play with makeup, which we've done many times. I mean, noses for 'Donnie Brasco' and Kevorkian [in 'You Don't Know Jack'] and 'Phil Spector,' all these others. By process of elimination we tried different possibilities that Al wanted to use to help him find his character.”

What they settled on in the end was a cross between Adolph Hitler and Groucho Marx. Pacino was always over his shoulder in the sculpting phase, a creative collaborator every step of the way. And Caglione has served as the actor's personal makeup artist ever since.

It goes without saying, of course, that the work would be fully dependent on the actors bringing it to life. And lucky for Caglione and his team, Warren Beatty had populated “Dick Tracy” with a wonderful assortment of character actors, from Dustin Hoffman and William Forsythe to Mandy Patinkin and Paul Sorvino.

“These guys are into it,” Caglione says. “I always looked at 'Dick Tracy' as like my 'Wizard of Oz,' where you have great character actors and hopefully decent character makeups designed for those faces, so much so that the screen credit I picked for 'Dick Tracy' was 'special character makeups by.' In 'The Wizard of Oz' it's 'character makeups by Jack Dawn.' So that was kind of a copycat thing that I always had in mind.”

The work Caglione, Sylbert, Storaro, Canonero and their departments put into “Dick Tracy” remains, to be perfectly honest, a bit undervalued. It came at a time when vibrant 90s aesthetics were beginning to pop in the last gasp of the 1980s, so perhaps in the perspective of some, there's something dated to the experience. But in truth – and even dabbling in visual cues drawn from the film noir era – it's quite timeless, specifically because of the simple visual approach Storaro presented, and the sui generis blend of foam rubber Caglione and company whipped up. A quarter century after it hit cinemas, and particularly when considered in a comic book movie framework that feels more and more like a same-y blur, it's nothing if not uniquely iconic. That alone deserves a raise of the glass.

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From 'Toy Story' to 'Inside Out': Ranking all of Pixar's films

Posted by · 12:21 pm · June 12th, 2015

You probably think you're having deja vu, but don't adjust anything. Yes, we've covered the best of Pixar in a nifty, click-y list before, but opinions shift and slide. And with a company putting out work as consistently great as this one has, it's understandable that nothing ever feels rooted. Ask me again in another year and I might have a different order.

So, with “Inside Out” on the way (more on that from me very soon), it seemed like as good a time as any to revisit these films. Pixar is also somewhat quietly celebrating the 20th anniversary of the studio's first theatrical release, 1995's “Toy Story.” So a look back makes all the more sense.

That's right, 20 years, 15 films. What's your order? Rattle them off in the comments section and vote for your absolute favorite in the poll as well. Then click through the gallery below to see where I stand…for now, anyway.

“Inside Out” hits theaters June 19.

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Lance Armstrong sells himself out in the trailer for 'The Program' with Ben Foster

Posted by · 11:31 am · June 11th, 2015

One film I've had my eye on in the upcoming season is Stephen Frears' “The Program” (formerly “Icon”). It's the story of journalist David Walsh, chief sports writer of the Sunday Times, who was hot on the trail of cyclist Lance Armstrong's fall from grace amid his performance-enhancing drugs scandal. A sharp trailer gives us our first glance at what we're dealing with here.

Chris O'Dowd is playing Walsh opposite Ben Foster as Armstrong. The latter appears uncanny in his depiction, really getting under the skin of a character who will do anything to succeed, will cut corners to achieve a result, will sell himself out if it means gaining any sort of edge in the marketplace of professional athleticism. Those are themes that stretch beyond that world, of course…

There is no domestic distributor on the Working Title production yet, which is surprising. I imagine it will hit the fall festival circuit and maybe a buyer will be made public prior to that. Studio Canal is distributing the film overseas, and that's the source of the new trailer.

The last time Frears was in the derby it was Best Picture nominee “Philomena” two years ago. He of course saw great success with “The Queen,” “The Grifters” and “Dangerous Liaisons” as well. Is this one a potential player? If so, are there any studios out there looking for a cause (assuming no non-publicized acquisition is in the works)?

Check out the trailer below and tell us what you think.


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Thomas Mann knows it will be hard to play a teenager again after 'Me and Earl'

Posted by · 12:40 pm · June 8th, 2015

Thomas Mann is an actor on the cusp. Think of Miles Teller right before the release of “The Spectacular Now” or Michael B. Jordan before “Fruitvale Station.” Once “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” hits theaters over the course of the next month, the 23-year-old actor is going to find himself busier than ever.

Of course, Mann”s mug may be familiar to many moviegoers. He starred in the hit comedy “Project X” ($102 million worldwide) and had supporting roles in “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters” and “Beautiful Creatures.” “Earl,” which won both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, is on a completely different level.

Based on Jesse Andrews' novel, “Me and Earl” centers on Greg (Mann), a Pittsburgh area high school senior whose life takes a turn after his mom (Connie Britton) pushes him to hang out with a family friend and classmate, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who is battling leukemia. She, unfortunately, is the “Dying Girl” in the film”s title. Over the course of the school year Greg and his best friend Earl (newcomer RJ Cyler) attempt to entertain her with some of their silly movie remakes such as “Senior Citizen Kane” and “2:48 PM Cowboy,” along with an occasional excursion to buy a firecracker popsicle or two.

The baby-faced Mann could easily play a teenager until he”s 30, but he”s honest enough to admit playing someone that young again wasn't ideal. It was the screenplay and director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon”s vision, however, which made him fight for the part.

“This role was so good and while the character is so immature it felt like the most mature role I'd ever taken on,” Mann says. “Now I feel like this is my quintessential high school movie and I can't go back.”

Mann actually met with Gomez-Rejon to chat about a part in the filmmaker”s first feature, “The Town That Dreaded Sundown.” While that didn”t come to pass, they stayed in touch and that kept him top of mind when Gomez-Rejon began casting “Me and Earl.” That”s rarely the most enjoyable part of the process for an actor and it certainly wasn”t for Mann.

“Olivia was actually cast first, which [made me] pissed off,” Mann recalls bluntly. “We were the first Greg and Rachel to read together. We got together and had dinner [the night before] to just talk about the script and break the ice and hope the next day would go much smoother. Fortunately, it helped us and we had this instant bond. We came in to read together and Alfonso loved what were doing and when we left the room [I thought], ‘This is amazing.””

And then the pitfalls of the creative process reared their ugly head. Mann had to wait two more months as the filmmakers auditioned Cooke with other male leads. He jokes, “It was like we were cheating on each other. We were both brought back for the final screen test. [It was] so embarrassing. Now she's reading with me and two other Gregs.”

Mann realizes now that Gomez-Rejon was considering other actors who, in theory, had more dramatic experience, but is honest when he says “it was pretty brutal.”

“It went on for a long time,” Mann says. “We were auditioning with 30 pages of scenes. It was pretty intense.”

Obviously, Mann got the part and all that work with Cooke during the audition process paid off as it effectively doubled as rehearsals. That gave everyone involved a head start before the 24-day shoot began and let the visually inventive Gomez-Rejon take more chances on set.

“There is a scene, which is my proudest moment that I've ever put on film, where it's one long take for six minutes,” Mann says. “It”s a dramatic scene between me and Rachel and it was the quickest scene we shot. Four Takes. We just laid it all out there. You don't want it to be too rehearsed or too polished or do too much for it. We didn't even know it was going to be one set-up.”

One aspect of the film that will no doubt charm many moviegoers are those movie spoofs we mentioned earlier (and, yes, the idea owes a bit to Michel Gondry”s “Be Kind Rewind”). It”s somewhat remarkable Gomez-Rejon and his production team were able to put so much detail into them in the context of a three-week shoot. Mann can”t remember if any spoofs didn”t make the cut, but many of them were significantly longer than what you”ll see on screen.

“The 'Conversation' spoof goes on for five minutes, but you just get glimpse of it on the computer screen,” he says. “We knocked five of them out in a row. We did those shots whenever we could get away for a second. It was a lot of material to finish in that amount of time.”

Mann, who has a number of indies in the can, will segue from promoting “Me and Earl” to starring alongside Dakota Fanning and Jenny Slate in the Charlize Theron-produced drama “Brain on Fire,” where he happily gets to portray someone in his mid-20s. In the meantime, he continues to be touched by the reaction he”s received from viewers at Q&As all across the country.

“People come up to you and they are genuinely moved by the film and they are telling you their stores and their personal loss,” Mann says. “People are really connecting to it in a really personal way. We just set out to make something that would speak to people and, hopefully, it would [be a movie] not only for young people, but something people of all ages could relate to.”

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” opens in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Chicago and Washington, D.C. on Friday.

For more movie buzz follow @HitFixGregory.

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'The Martian' trailer: Will Ridley Scott's space drama wash out the 'Exodus' taste?

Posted by · 9:25 am · June 8th, 2015

I can't help but wonder if “The Martian” is fighting uphill from the start. After all, we just watched Matt Damon in a hyped space prestige drama last year. Could the familiarity ding it a bit? Maybe. The bigger question for me is what Ridley Scott has left up his sleeve.

“Prometheus” may have had its fans, but I was certainly not one of them. “Exodus: Gods and Men” had no friends in sight. “The Counselor” even less. “Robin Hood” felt misguided and stale. “Body of Lies” seemed to be trying for something fresh but ended up as rote as they come. It's been a long time since “American Gangster.”

What has kept me more or less on board through all of this is Scott's attention to detail and craft. He is a brilliant filmmaker, regardless of how below the bar this stuff has been lately. “Prometheus,” for as much as I disliked it on a story and even conceptual level, looked amazing. Darisusz Wolski's photography and Arthur Max's production design were probably even Oscar-worthy. So I look at the new global trailer for “The Martian” and what I see, as ever with Scott, is a world fully crafted, meticulously detailed, tangible and vibrant. I can only hope the screenplay is up to snuff.

It is adapted from an acclaimed Andy Weir book, which helps. As noted when we wrote about the teaser footage that was released over the weekend, it's a human story, warm and accessible. Maybe that will make for a fine alignment for Scott indeed.

As far as the awards derby goes, who can really say? Fox has a very interesting slate this year with this, Alejandro González Iñárritu's “The Revanant” and David O. Russell's “Joy.” Those are some strong artists to work with, certainly. We'll see how that plays out in due time.

For now, check out the new trailer for “The Martian” above and tell us what you think.

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Tom Hanks fights for the Constitution in the first 'Bridge of Spies' trailer

Posted by · 9:13 am · June 5th, 2015

It's been a busy week for studios looking to push their year-end prestige product. Sony dropped a splashy new trailer for “The Walk” while announcing the film would open the New York Film Festival and Disney has offered up the first materials for “Bridge of Spies.” Yesterday we got the poster, today we get the trailer.

It's a thriller sell with, naturally, Tom Hanks front and center. That's the interesting thing about it for me, though. Amid all that period turmoil and accoutrements, yep, that's Tom Hanks. No affectations or heavy characterization, just gee whiz Tom Hanks. And that could be fine. It just struck me for whatever reason.

As I said yesterday, I'm excited for the film. Steven Spielberg's last excursion, “Lincoln,” was absolutely masterful and he's in top form as ever. I like the look of this, the attention to detail, Janusz Kaminski's photography. It feels like a movie that might be difficult to market, though. But it could touch the zeitgeist in some ways, dabbling in notions of “what we stand for” and America bending the backbone of the Constitution to fit political will. Could be great. Here's hoping.

For now, check out the trailer above and tell us what you think.

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Review: Patience pays off for refreshing animated tale 'The Little Prince'

Posted by · 5:59 pm · June 4th, 2015

CANNES – In 2015, it's much easier to tell which company produced an animated movie as opposed to who directed it.  That”s a tad disheartening considering how much energy the studios behind these films exert trying to nudge their directors into the spotlight.

For instance, you can immediately tell a Pixar film by its character design and a story that almost always has a life message it wants to tell (which you can predictably see a mile away, for better or worse). Walt Disney Animation has soared in recent years by blissfully keeping the movie musical alive or finding the heartstrings in action-packed adventures. DreamWorks Animation films skew toward broad, interactive 3D animation that overshadows their peers and a sense of humor that can often appeal more to adults than kids (at times). LAIKA”s gorgeous stop-motion work has the quirky, dark corner completely covered.

The artists at Universal”s Illumination Entertainment have made a name for themselves with a slightly Euro-skewed character design (makes sense as they are based in France) and physical comedy that translates in any language. Notably, the latter has often been the biggest trademark of 20th Century Fox”s partner Blue Sky (which makes sense as Illumination's founder started off there), although their films always tend to feature the least inspired scripts of the bunch. As for Sony Animation? Well, they”ve been all over the quality scale.

That”s what makes the individuality of Mark Osborne”s independently produced “The Little Prince” so impressive.

Osborne, best known for helming “Kung Fu Panda” at DreamWorks, has collaborated with screenwriters Irena Brignull and Bob Persichetti to bring Antoine de Saint-Exupéry”s classic novel to the big screen, and it was no easy task. The author's original work is too short and slightly abstract for a straight adaptation, so Osborne and his colleagues have fashioned a different, modern-day story around it.  

Our heroine is simply known as The Little Girl (Mackenie Foy), a, um, young girl who is doing everything possible to follow the life plan her mother (Rachel McAdams) has literally mapped out for her. It”s magnificently displayed on a wall filled with magnetic pegs. When they move to a new neighborhood to further that plan, The Little Girl becomes friends with an old eccentric known as The Aviator (Jeff Bridges) across the street. The Aviator introduces her to the story of The Little Prince (the one from the book) as an adventure he experienced earlier in his life. It appears that The Prince has been left on a planet in the sky and The Aviator has spent years trying to construct a plane to rescue him.

Unlike the rest of the film that has been rendered in what is now “traditional” 3D animation, the Prince”s story has been animated with stop-motion figures, mostly made of paper. It”s a striking and beautiful choice that immediately feels as though it”s bringing Saint-Exupéry”s original artwork to life. It would have been nice to have more of it, but if you”re going to find a way to integrate the spirit of the book into a contemporary film, this is a more than satisfactory solution.

Eventually, The Little Girl discovers that the Prince”s universe of stars has been co-opted by both the inherently bad Business Man (Albert Brooks) and The Conceited Man (Ricky Gervais). And, trust, our heroine is going to do everything she can to free The Little Prince from their star-less universe.  

As the film progresses, Osborne walks a fine line on whether The Little Girl”s adventure to save the Prince is real or not. In the end, it doesn”t matter in the context of her story arc, but there is something refreshing about the fact that the movie doesn”t make it so obvious. Frankly, it”s hard to imagine the picture making it through a traditional studio testing process without the audience being told one way or another.

While there are many genre-specific tropes used to make the story appeal to younger viewers, there is also something about the patience Osborne has for a scene to play out that immediately recalls Brad Bird”s “The Iron Giant” and, to a lesser extent, Gore Verbinski”s “Rango.” There is a faith that the story and characters will keep the audience engaged, even if there isn”t a bright and shiny thing to distract them in a every single scene. Granted, Osborne and his animators have fashioned a top-notch-rendered “real” world for the characters to interact with, and the figure design is just enough of a Franco- and American-skewing mix to make you question what studio actually produced it. But in a business where so much feature animation seemingly has to come from a pre-established entity to gain any notoriety in the public eye, the result is more refreshing than you might expect.

While some of the voice performers such as James Franco (The Fox), Marion Cotillard (The Rose) and Benicio Del Toro (The Serpent) barely have anything to say, Foy, McAdams, Gervais and Brooks are top notch. Unfortunately, Bridges might have been a bit too on-the-nose for The Aviator and his performance here feels just a tad too kooky. An unrecognizable Paul Rudd throws out some welcome Stanley Tucci attitude as a not-so-impressed school administrator, though.

The film also features a memorable score by Hans Zimmer and Richard Harvey that includes beautiful vocals by Camille Dalmais.

“The Little Prince” will open in France on July 29. Paramount Pictures has not set a U.S. release date at this time.

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Tom Hanks is front and center on the poster for Steven Spielberg's 'Bridge of Spies'

Posted by · 11:30 am · June 4th, 2015

It's hard not to be excited for Steven Spielberg's “Bridge of Spies.” A Cold War drama starring Tom Hanks as an American lawyer recruited by the CIA to help rescue a pilot detained by the Soviet Union, yeah, it ticks a lot of “prestige” boxes. And we all know that can be a two-way street. But this could be great.

And Hanks is certainly the selling point for the first poster, which landed today courtesy of Walt Disney Studios. His head, large and in charge, caught in the gray area between the striking colors of the American and Soviet flags. Hello theme!

We'll know a little bit more about “Bridge of Spies” tomorrow morning when Disney releases the first trailer for the film. And I can't help but wonder if, in due time, we'll learn that the film is playing the New York Film Festival like “Lincoln” before it.

Check out the new poster below and tell us what you think.

Bridge of Spies poster

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The new trailer for Robert Zemeckis' 'The Walk' finds Joseph Gordon-Levitt on a high wire

Posted by · 9:50 am · June 4th, 2015

Along with today's announcement that Robert Zemeckis' “The Walk” will open the 2015 New York Film Festival comes a new trailer for the film, featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as high-wire artist Philippe Petit. While the initial teaser sold the spectacle of the film, this one plays up the procedural that we all saw put forth in “Man on Wire,” Petit and his team's incredible precision job in pulling the whole thing off.

It plays very commercial to me, which leaves me wondering if it will really be an awards play at the end of the day. I was a big fan of Zemeckis' last film, “Flight” – which closed the 2012 New York Film Festival – but it, too, ended up more of a commercial play. It did land an original screenplay nomination at the end of the day as writer John Gatins was inexhaustible on the circuit and Paramount pushed it very hard.

In recent years, Sony has seen great success with commercial material, though. “American Hustle” and “Captain Phillips” both landed Best Picture nominations. “Moneyball,” too. And of course there was “Zero Dark Thirty.” In the wake of last year's email hack scandal, the studio is in a transitional stage, Tom Rothman taking over for the exiting Amy Pascal. This year will also bring Will Smith in “Concussion” (a drama about American football players suffering from major head injuries and life-long debilitating problems as a result of repeated concussions and efforts by the National Football League to deny it) as well as another James Bond film, “Spectre” (“Skyfall” came close to this level of prestige in 2012). With Meryl Streep rocker “Ricki and the Flash” thrown in for good measure.

How will the new Sony position all of this? Time will tell. For now, you can check out the new trailer for “The Walk” above.

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All hail Michael Fassbender's possessed 'Macbeth' in gorgeous new trailer

Posted by · 9:30 am · June 4th, 2015

Don't cry for Harvey Weinstein. The venerable mini-major movie tycoon may have just discovered he has a potential art house hit on his hands. 

The Weinstein Company is distributing Justin Kurzel's “Macbeth” in the United States, but Studio Canal UK, who originally financed it, released the world's first teaser for it this morning and got a buzzworthy reception. Over eight hours after the trailer's debut, “Macbeth” was still trending worldwide on Twitter. That's pretty remarkable for yet another adaptation of William Shakespeare's 400-year-old play. A lot of that has to do with the appeal of the film's stars, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, and Kurzel's stunning visuals. 

Frankly, much of the credit for the film's look actually has to go to cinematographer Adam Arkapaw. With recent credits including “Animal Kingdom,” the first season of HBO's “True Detective” and “Top of the Lake” (he won Emmy Awards for the latter), the DP is making quite a name for himself. Kurzel's “Macbeth” has some issues including a screenplay that feels like it takes some of the meat out of Shakespeare's original work, but no one will criticize the incredible world the filmmakers have placed it in.

Oh, and it's hard to go wrong with Fassbender and Cotillard, either.

For more on the movie read my review from the Cannes Film Festival here. You can enjoy the teaser embedded at the top of this post.

“Macbeth” is currently undated in the United States, but we're guessing that may change very, very soon.

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The New York Film Festival lands a high-wire opening act

Posted by · 9:22 am · June 4th, 2015

Robert Zemeckis' “The Walk,” which tells the story of French high-wire artist Philippe Petit, has been selected as the opening night presentation of this year's New York Film Festival. Petit's 1974 walk between the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center was fodder for the 2008 documentary “Man on Wire,” which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Petit in Zemeckis' film.

Given that the setting of Petit's walk, NYFF is an understandable place to make the bow, particularly given Sony's recent experiences there with films like “The Social Network” and “Captain Phillips.” Indeed, said Zemeckis, “'The Walk' is a New York story, so I am delighted to be presenting the film to New York audiences first. My hope is that Festival audiences will be immersed in the spectacle, but also be enraptured by the celebration of a passionate artist who helped give the wonderful towers a soul.”

Zemeckis' last film, “Flight,” premiered at NYFF in 2012 as well.

The opening night spot at the fest has been a hopeful launching pad for films looking to play the awards game in recent years. In addition to the aforementioned “Social Network” and “Captain Phillips,” other openers have included “Gone Girl” and “Life of Pi.” Throughout the fest, centerpiece, special presentation and closing night spots have also been prime real estate for films like “Hugo,” “Lincoln,” “Inherent Vice,” “Birdman” and more. This year could see everything from Danny Boyle's “Steve Jobs” (which I honestly expected to land the opening night spot) to Steven Spielberg's “Bridge of Spies” find their way to the slate.

Will “The Walk” be a player? Perhaps. Gordon-Levitt also has Oliver Stone's “Snowden” on the way this year, which finds the “Inception” star taking on the role of Edward Snowden. Some footage of Zemeckis' film was shown at CinemaCon this year, which HitFix's Greg Ellwood found “breathtaking visually,” but he noted that the actor's French accent was troublesome. We'll see how it all pans out, but landing placement like this is a pretty bold statement that you plan to be in the game.

“The Walk” opens in theaters Oct. 2.

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'Birdman' director lashes out at 'corporate' cinema and 'the cruel emperor of profit'

Posted by · 10:59 am · June 3rd, 2015

Alejandro González Iñárritu is still picking up awards in the wake of the Oscar-winning “Birdman.” Tuesday night he was on hand in Los Angeles for the Sundance Institute Celebration, honoring him with the Vanguard Leadership Award, and his comments on the state of film and entertainment were as pointed as they were in the text of last year's Best Picture winner.

“Some people are now calling films 'content,' or even 'the pipeline,'” he said after accepting the award from “Selma” director Ava DuVernay. “Yes, like the ones used for the conveyance of gas or petroleum for its mass consumption. A great amount of films produced every year are considered that: content to fill the corporate pipelines.”

His and his co-writers' Oscar-winning original screenplay for “Birdman” took Hollywood to task in its own way with a portrait of ego and the drive to create something of value. The story of a movie star famous for playing a superhero who is struggling to put on a substantive Broadway production, the film took its share of swipes at the status quo of corporate-driven cinema.

“Only humans are the ones who see themselves in the mirror,” González Iñárritu said. “We do it because we need it. The mirror of our species, that is cinema, or that was. And that's unique. When someone pours their uniqueness out, it creates the real content, the fire that only humans know how to ignite. That's a miracle. That fire can come from the freedom of one single human being brave enough to reveal themselves without shame and most importantly without fear of not being 'entertaining' or being measured by the cruel emperor of profit.”

“Everything has to be fast, spectacular,” he continued. “Do not disturb me. Do not make me think or feel or take me from my comfort zone. Just heal my pain, loneliness or frustration with an anesthetic: entertain me. We perceive the increasing devaluation of this beautiful language every day.”

Currently the director is wrapping up production on “The Revenant,” which is set to hit theaters later this year and will potentially be a part of the awards conversation like “Birdman.”

You can view González Iñárritu's full speech in the video above.

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Carey Mulligan rocks the vote in the trailer for 'Suffragette'

Posted by · 8:46 am · June 3rd, 2015

Focus Features will certainly have a timely player in the race later this year in Tom Hooper's “The Danish Girl,” starring Eddie Redmayne. But the studio, which has seen great Oscar luck in recent years with films like “Dallas Buyers Club” and “The Theory of Everything,” will also be looking to find some room for Sara Gavron's drama “Suffragette,” centered on early members of the British women's suffrage movement of the turn of the 20th Century.

This one could also be seen as timely, given the current landscape of income inequality. The film was written (Abi Morgan), produced (Aloson Owen, Faye Ward) and directed by women as well, it should be noted. Meanwhile, it has also been tapped to open the BFI London Film Festival.

The way I hear it from someone who saw the movie back when it was being shopped around for a buyer, Carey Mulligan is the big play here as far as potential awards is concerned. (She's also in the hunt for early year release “Far from the Madding Crowd.”) And anyone holding out hope for this to be a “Meryl Streep movie”: she's barely in the film. Stick to “Ricki and the Flash” where her prospects are concerned.

Focus has released a trailer which you can read in the video embedded at the top of this post.  The official synopsis is below.

“The stirring story centers on Maud (Mulligan), a working wife and mother whose life is forever changed when she is secretly recruited to join the U.K.'s growing suffragette movement. Galvanized by the outlaw fugitive Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Maud becomes an activist for the cause alongside women from all walks of life. When increasingly aggressive police action forces Maud and her dedicated fellow suffragettes underground, they engage in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with the authorities, who are shocked as the women”s civil disobedience escalates and sparks debate across the nation.”

“Suffragette” opens in theaters Oct. 23.

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